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Mental health concerns on rise as pandemic continues

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and as the country enters the sixth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health is becoming an even bigger concern.

The coronavirus pandemic is bringing unprecedented suffering not seen in living memory, according to the Psychiatric Times. Millions across the country have lost their jobs and their livelihoods. People have lost loved ones to the virus while faced with the prospect of becoming the next COVID death. The Psychiatric Times refers to this as a “perfect storm,” chronic exposure to severe stress in the absence of control.

The impact wrought by the pandemic has changed the lives of people across America and even right here in Baltimore County. Living in uncertain times can be frightening, but resources are available for Dundalkians who either are seeking help concerning mental health or who know someone who is struggling.

The Baltimore County Crisis Response Team remains on standby for those facing a mental health crisis. The BCCRT, established in 2001, is partnered with both the Baltimore County Police Department and the Affiliated Sante´ Group, a behavioral health organization that serves 15 Maryland jurisdictions.

mursery / Stock photo 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, negative impacts on mental health are on the rise in Baltimore County as well as across the country.

Michelle Grigsby-Hackett, vice president of Maryland Crisis Response Services, said the Affiliated Sante´Group has been established for 40 years. Beginning as the Rock Creek Foundation, located in Silver Spring, it is now one of the largest providers of mental health services to local governments around the state.

Allison Paladino, who is the director of the Baltimore County Crisis Response Team, said the program is overseen by the Baltimore County Health Department, with its funding source coming from the Baltimore County Bureau of Behavioral Health.

“We are in place to provide crisis services to any Baltimore County resident or anyone who might be experiencing a crisis while in the county,” Paladino said. “We do this through a number of service components.”

The real picture

Statistics show that the risks associated with mental health have increased significantly since the pandemic began. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), 53 percent of US adults have reported a negative impact to their mental health, up from 32 percent in March, when the pandemic began.

KFF said that US adults have reported specific symptoms over that time. According to KFF, 36 percent of adults have reported trouble sleeping, 32 percent have reported issues with eating, and 12 percent have reported an increase in the consumption of alcohol or illegal drugs. These ongoing public health measures can lead situations linked to poor mental health outcomes, such as isolation or job loss, KFF said.

Substance use disorder can lead people to be entered into the criminal justice system, Paladino said. A negative impact on one’s mental health could lead to a person acting irrationally, such as throwing a brick through a window or another form of destroying property, can also lead to criminal charges.

“That’s a destruction of property charge, but we know it’s a symptom of the behavior, Paladino said. “Let’s work on the underlying problem and get the person into the correct level of care.”

Paladino said that mental health statistics in Baltimore County were slightly lower than the national average (32 percent) in March when the pandemic began. This could be because people were taking care of more concrete physical needs, she said. As the pandemic continues, Paladino said, her team is not only seeing an increased volume, but an increase in the acuity of calls.

Does it affect us all the same?

Paladino and Grigsby-Hackett said that statistics breaking down mental health issues by race are not available. Coronavirus statistics show that people of color have been impacted greater overall. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) said recently that Blacks make up 17 percent of the US population and Hispanics make up 18 percent, yet they account for 30 percent and 17 percent of US positive coronavirus cases, respectively.

Mental health statistics also reflect the impact on different age groups. According to Healio Psychiatry, the pandemic has resulted in many quarantine and social isolation measures designed to keep individuals physically distanced from others for the foreseeable future. Children are affected by the lack of a daily structure. In Baltimore County, public schools will be closed to traditional in-person learning until after Jan. 29.

Over the past decade, college students have seen an increase in depression, anxiety and suicidality, according to Healio. Campus closings have caused a shift in thinking among students about their sense of belonging, while virtual learning, and the pandemic itself, can result in an increased feeling of loneliness and increased rates of anxiety.

For adults, several stressors can be responsible for a negative impact on mental health. Many people began teleworking, potentially leading to an increase in social isolation. For others, financial stressors could be the source of a negative impact. Another, combining work responsibilities with caring for loved ones, be they older adults or school-aged children.

Resources are available

Paladino said the BCCRT has several resources for people in Baltimore County to access in the event of a mental health crisis. The BCCRT offers the following resources:

Operations Call Center

• Operates 24 hours a day/365 days a year

• Calls are answered and screened by mental health counselors

• Danger/lethality of the caller’s situation is assessed

• Calls may be triaged to urgent care, mobile crisis team or in home intervention team

•Cases are managed with a crisis plan

• Information and referrals draw from a comprehensive resources database

• Linkages are made to treatment and support systems

Mobile Crisis Team

• Comprised of a specially trained and selected police officer, paired with a liscensed mental health clinician.

• Dispatched by 911/law enforcement radio or operations center (crisis response).

• Operates seven days a week between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 a.m.

• The team can be dispatched to aid suicidal and mentally ill individuals, assist in situational crisis events, emergency petitions and other acute situations.

Urgent Care Center

• Clients are seen within 48 hours

• Offers both diagnostic assessments and medication evaluations

• The clinics provide an alternative to costly emergency department services

• Transportation and pharmacy assistance are available

• Critical Incident Stress Management

• Debriefing for community disasters or crisis events

• Available to groups and individuals

• Staff are specifically trained for managing stress following a critical incident

• Community Education

• Mental health education is provided for all first responders: (fire department, law enforcement, emergency medical technicians)

• Education and training is also available to community providers

• Suicide prevention and intervention education

• Seminars are available regarding crisis intervention and mental health

Community Oriented System

• Relationship with local first responders

• Continuously updating an electronic community providers database

• Community-based crisis stabilization

• Mental health first responders who follow-up with wrap-around services

• Focus on community education and outreach

• Monitored by an advisory committee

• Uses a single point of access to manage clients in crisis

• Serves as hub of a wheel of community agencies and providers

In-Home Intervention Team

• Delivered by Mental Health Clinicians

• Individuals and families needing intense service

Short time period/ brief/ solution-focused

I• n-home or in community setting

• Non-acute crisis interventions and follow-up

• Appointment based service available Monday — Friday

The Baltimore County Crisis Hotline is available 24 hours each day, seven days a week for immediate crisis support. The hotline can be reached at 410-931-2214.

People can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Councilman Crandell announces opposition to SMART Policing Act

County Councilman Todd Crandell has announced he will not support the SMART Policing Act, a police reform initiative introduced last week by County Executive John Olszewski Jr.

“Unless Bill 96-20, the SMART Policing Act, is significantly amended, I will most likely be the only County Council member to vote ‘No’,” said Crandell, a Republican who represents the 7th District (Dundalk-Edgemere and part of Essex), in a statement on Tuesday.

The bill will be discussed on Sept. 29 and voted upon on Oct. 2.

Crandell described the bill as “about politics, not public safety.”

It bans the use of all neck restraints by police, including chokeholds, unless a person’s life is in immediate jeopardy. The bill also requires police render aid or call for medical care for any individual in police custody who has an obvious injury or complains of an injury.

Also required by the SMART Policing Act are policies to limit use of force; obligating officers to intervene to stop fellow officers from using excessive force and to report the use of force; protections to prohibit retaliations against officers who report excessive force; additional training for officers at risk of engaging in excessive force; authorizing the Chief of Police to select up to two civilians to serve on a police hearing board; and requiring public access to ‘use of force’ data and police-involved shootings.

“If you remember, the first attempt at “police reform” legislation this summer was tabled by four members of the Council, including myself,” Crandell wrote. “The measures in that legislation were so cumbersome and unworkable that the bill was opposed by the Baltimore County Police Chief, the State’s Attorney, and the Fraternal Order of Police. I voted to table that bill in case it had any possibility of passage.

“Bill 96-20, given an acronym that’s hard to disagree with, is a watered down version of the original bill. Most of what 96-20 calls for is already being done by long-standing police department policy and procedures or announced by the County Executive as new initiatives in early June.”

According to statistics posted by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #4 (Baltimore County), county police have shown a significant improvement in a number of areas over the 10-year period from 2010-19.

Despite a steady increase of calls for service (a total of 6,236,403, rising from 604,706 in 2010 to 749,403 in 2019) and the county population rising from 801,700 to 835,000, there has been a large drop in the number of arrests, uses of force by county officers and citizen complaints.

Arrests have dropped from 33,898 in 2010 to 21,689 in 2019, with each year showing a decrease from the previous year and trending downward 35 percent during the decade.

Uses of force decreased from 329 in 2010 to 249 in 2019 (for a total of 2,934 incidents over 10 years), while citizen complaints fell from 128 to 50 (877 total).

That is an average of 293 uses of force per year, which is less than once use of force per day. Additionally, force was reported used in ,047 percent of all calls for service and 1.105 percent of all arrests.

“This does not sound like a police department in need of reform, but one that should be honored,” Crandell wrote.

According to county Internal Affairs, county police were involved in 60 combat shootings over the 10-year period; an average of six per year.

“I do not see a reason to legislate those policies and procedures, especially when most laws governing how local police operate are federal and state statutes,” Crandell wrote. “In fact, the House of Delegates’ Work Group on Addressing Police Reform & Accountability in Maryland will make recommendations to the General Assembly later this year.

“Anything passed by the General Assembly will in all probability supersede whatever Baltimore County enacts. So if 96-20 duplicates what is already being done and may be rendered obsolete by state law, why not just go along with my colleagues and vote Yes instead of being the lone ‘No’ vote (again.)?

“Here’s why: I represent the people of the 7th District, a community that supports our men and women in Blue. To have BCPD cast as an agency somehow in need of reform is an insult to them, and I believe police work is difficult enough without politician’s unwarranted interference.”

During the press conference last week introducing the SMART Act, county council members Cathy Bevins (6th District), David Marks (5th District), Izzy Patoka (2nd District), Wade Kach (3rd District), Tom Quirk (1st District) and Julian Jones Jr. (4th District) spoke in favor of the legislation.

Despite plans to hold all three sports season starting on Feb. 1, it is unlikely the state will be able to schedule large events like the three-day state track and field championships at Morgan State University.

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Chesapeake Bay Foundation to sue the EPA

MARYLAND—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and its partners will file a complaint suing the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for abdicating its responsibilities under the Clean Water Act.

CBF said in a press release that the EPA has failed to require Pennsylvania and New York to develop plans to sufficiently reduce pollution as was required by the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint, established in 2010, and re-confirmed in the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Agreement. The suit will be filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

CBF’s partners in the suit are Anne Arundel County, Maryland, the Maryland Watermen’s Association, and Robert Whitescarver and Jeanne Hoffman, who operate a livestock farm in Virginia.

Underscoring the damage this will cause for Bay restoration efforts, Attorneys General in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and the District of Columbia will also file a separate suit in the District of Columbia Federal District Court.

“This is the moment in time for the Chesapeake Bay. If EPA fails to hold Pennsylvania, and to a lesser extent New York, accountable the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint will be yet another in a series of failures for Bay restoration,” CBF President William C. Baker said.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. Under the Blueprint we have seen progress. But unless pressure is brought to bear on Pennsylvania, we will never get to the finish line.”

In the past dozen years, CBF said it has been successful in litigation to support Bay restoration. First, to have EPA commit to the science-based pollution limits that EPA then agreed to issue with the Blueprint in 2010. And second, to help defend the Blueprint from attacks by the American Farm Bureau Federation and its allies in federal court.

In the second case, the Blueprint was upheld by a federal court judge in Pennsylvania, who found that the federal/state partnership was legal and the science sound, calling it an example of the “cooperative federalism” that is called for in the Clean Water Act.

The decision was appealed to the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals. There, CBF continued to make the case that the Blueprint was legal, pointing to damage to local communities and businesses that depend on clean water.

Once again, the appeals court upheld the Blueprint, reaffirming EPA’s authority and responsibilities. The court also addressed the requirement that state plans provide ‘reasonable assurance’ that the plans will succeed, saying that EPA’s acceptance of plans without such assurance would be arbitrary and capricious.

CBF said litigation is a last resort. CBF, its partners, and the Attorneys General have twice formally offered to meet with EPA and discuss the claims, but EPA did not respond.

According to the CBF, Pennsylvania’s plan to meet the 2025 goals in the Blueprint contains improvements over past plans, including prioritized county-level plans. However, as approved by EPA, it specifically identifies how the Commonwealth will achieve only roughly 73 percent of its 31 million-pound nitrogen-reduction commitment, and the implementation plan is underfunded by more than $300 million dollars a year.

In New York’s plan the state’s nitrogen shortfall exceeded 1 million pounds annually and it failed to adequately identify funding sources for meeting agricultural and stormwater commitments.

Despite the deficiencies, CBF said the EPA took no steps to hold either state accountable to their Blueprint obligations. EPA should either have required the states to design plans to fully meet the pollution reduction goals including identifying the necessary funding, or imposed consequences. EPA’s acceptance of New York and Pennsylvania’s plans last year was a violation of the agency’s responsibilities.

“The Clean Water Act requires EPA to ensure the states design and implement plans to meet their clean water commitments. After years of failed voluntary efforts, this oversight and accountability is critical,” Baker added.

“The Blueprint, however, is not just about clean water. Taking the actions necessary to reduce pollution will support local businesses, create jobs, and provide additional environmental and public health benefits—all of particular importance in our current national public health and economic crisis.”

Also signing on to CBF’s lawsuit:

Anne Arundel County, Maryland—Anne Arundel County’s 588 square miles of land includes more than 500 miles of shoreline on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Its 580,000 residents and countless tourists are drawn to the county to enjoy the Bay, fresh seafood, and numerous water-based recreational opportunities.

According to the CBF, travel and tourism spending in the county are estimated at over $3.5 billion annually, providing support for over 30,000 workers. The county has invested more than $500 million over the last decade to protect this vital natural, economic and cultural resource.

“Anne Arundel County residents have invested far too much in the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort to watch from the sidelines as upstream states and the EPA abandon their obligations,” Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said.

“Since the federal government refuses to lead, placing our local economy, our residents, and our very way of life at risk, I must ask the courts to intervene and make them lead.”

The Maryland Watermen’s Association—Robert T Brown, Sr. is the President of the Maryland Watermen’s Association. He observed that Maryland watermen and the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries have suffered for many years due to EPA’s failure to enforce the Clean Water Act. The pollution of waste and debris flowing from upstream states, through the Susquehanna River feeding into the Chesapeake Bay creates, red tides, low oxygen levels and dead zones. This affects the survival of oyster larvae, crabs, clams and fish.

“Remember water runs downhill with these pollutants and for these reasons the Maryland Watermen’s Association hopes through this law suit it will force the EPA to protect and enforce the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries,” he said.

Robert Whitescarver and Jeanne Hoffman operate a farm in Virginia, raising livestock. He is a former Natural Resource Conservation Service representative, who spent his career educating farmers on the benefits of protecting farmland and improving water quality in local streams and rivers.

“All jurisdictions need to do their fair share. The efforts that Virginia and Maryland farmers have put into sustainable farming are harmed by EPA’s failure to require all jurisdictions to meet the commitments they agreed to,” Whitescarver said.

Juan Zaya prepares to field a ground ball for the Cardinals.