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Autonomous car parking tests slated

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Testing of autonomous vehicle parking by the company STEER Tech, of Annapolis Junction, will soon begin later this month in the hourly garage at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and at a nearby commuter lot, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) announced.

Drivers in the testing area should continue to operate their vehicles safely and normally, and pedestrians should continue to observe caution and proceed safely as in any other environment. Additionally, MDOT Maryland Transit Administration will soon launch a pilot study to test the feasibility of self-parking cars at the Dorsey Run MARC Train Station.

In 2018, STEER evaluated its autonomous vehicle system in a closed course at BWI Marshall. During that initial phase of testing, there were zero accidents and no safety-critical disengagements. MDOT issued the first permits to STEER for testing at parking lots owned by MDOT in June 2017. New permits are for the current round of tests. The efforts place BWI Marshall on the global technology map as one of the first major airports to pilot autonomous vehicle technologies in public parking facilities.

In mixed-use testing at BWI Marshall, clearly-marked autonomous STEER cars will operate like regular vehicles around traditional driver-operated vehicles and pedestrians. STEER operators will remain in the vehicles during testing. Signage will be posted at the airport to indicate the specific testing locations. The Maryland Aviation Administration (MAA) is offering a toll-free line, 1-855-727-5294, to address any questions or concerns about the Connected and Autonomous Vehicle testing.

MDOT MTA’s CAV pilot will be conducted in the Dorsey Run MARC Station parking lot and will test STEER’s Automated Valet Parking (AVP) technology. Transit customers who use large commuter parking lots will benefit from the AVP technology by allowing their cars to drive themselves to parking spaces, keeping commuters from having to walk long distances. AVP-equipped vehicles would also be able to drive themselves from their parking spots back to the station, where drivers would be waiting on the station platform.

Howard gets AAA rating

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Howard County has received the highest possible credit rating, AAA, from all three bond rating agencies. Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investor Services and Standard & Poor’s, for the 22nd consecutive years. All three noted Howard County’s strong economy and financial flexibility, even amid a historic, federal government shutdown.

Among more than 3,000 counties in the nation, Howard is one of only 43 counties to receive a AAA rating from all agencies. The rating affirms Howard County’s ability to pay its debts and gives taxpayers the lowest possible interest when repaying bonds sold by the county.

The rating agencies use four categories of criteria: Economy/Tax base, Finances, Management, and Debt/Pensions. Each agency issued a report that highlights Howard County’s strengths.

Fitch expects “Howard County to maintain a high level of financial flexibility throughout economic cycles, consistent with a long history of sound operating performance and healthy reserves, and a superior level of budget flexibility.”

Moody’s reported, “The stable outlook reflects the likelihood that the county’s financial position will remain sound given management’s adherence to formal fiscal policies… The outlook also reflects future growth in the county’s base given ongoing commercial and residential development spurred by proximity to District of Columbia and the institutional presence of Fort Meade.”

Standard & Poor’s noted, “In our opinion … stable financial operations and very strong management, including comprehensive policies and practices, support the AAA rating.”

The full bond rating reports are available at www.howardcountymd.gov/Departments/FInance/Financial-Information/Bonds

What are the best cities to start a business?

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With National Small Business Week underway and half of Americans working for small businesses, the personal-finance website WalletHub released its report on its top 100 Best Large Cities to Start a Business.

The news wasn’t encouraging locally, with Washington ranking 91st and Baltimore ranking 92nd in the 2019 list. The best places were Orlando, Fla.; Oklahoma City, Okla.; Miami; Austin, Texas; and Tampa.

In order to help aspiring entrepreneurs maximize their chances for long-term prosperity, WalletHub compared 100 U.S. cities across 19 key indicators of startup viability. The data set ranges from five-year business-survival rate to office-space affordability. To view the full report, visit https://wallethub.com/edu/best-cities-to-start-a-business/2281

Commerce launches STEMConnect

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The Maryland Department of Commerce has launched STEMConnect, an interactive database of educational, internship and apprenticeship opportunities in federal agencies and military installations throughout Maryland. The database, which was created by Maryland Commerce’s Office of Military and Federal Affairs, is designed to promote and provide information on the numerous STEM-related opportunities to students, parents and educators.

“Federal agencies and military commands throughout our state offer outstanding opportunities for children of all ages to explore jobs and career paths in science, technology, engineering and math ― careers that are critical to our nation, our state and our economy,” said Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz.

The database includes information on programs ranging from summer camps to robotics challenges for students of all ages, from pre-K to college and university. STEM Connect is searchable by education level, type of program, key words, military or federal agency and location. Approximately 100 educational, internship, and apprenticeship opportunities at nearly 20 federal agencies or military commands are currently listed, and STEM Connect will be updated on a regular basis.

Maryland is home to 60 federal civilian agencies, including the National Security Agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, as well as 20 major military installations including Aberdeen Proving Ground, Fort George G. Meade, Joint Base Andrews, and Naval Air Station Patuxent River. For additional information or to explore available programs, visit https://commerce.knack.com/stemconnect.

Nielsen unveils new PPM wearables

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New York and Columbia-based Nielsen has unveiled the latest designs for its wearable Portable People Meter (PPM) technology. The updated design of the PPM wearables, which are now available as wristbands, pendants and clip mounts, will make participation easier for panelists and, as a result, improve representation, with Nielsen’s goal being to bridge its audio and other panels to boost value and gain cross-media insights.

The new wearable PPM will feature a companion app that will enable data collection out of home, improving compliance while allowing for new ways to interact with panelists; the next step in the development process is testing with former panelists, which will begin later this year.

The corporation has also announced other measurement developments for the radio industry, including Nielsen Media Impact, which is Nielsen’s Total Audience Planning Solution; and updates to its Continuous Diary Measurement, which brings monthly reporting to Nielsen’s Diary markets starting in 46 metros this summer.

And they’re off- The costs, the hope of training race horses

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As he walks through the stalls at Laurel Park, Phil Schoenthal rattles off some of the aspects of training a racehorse: grooming, conditioning workouts, growing hydroponic barley, purchasing and maintaining equine spas and other therapy equipment, managing owner expectations, overseeing a dozen employees, traveling to horse sales to inspect and purchase racing prospects and working with farriers and veterinarians.

Schoenthal, who has spent more than 20 years in the horse racing business, is a public horse trainer, meaning he works with many horses and multiple owners, as opposed to working for a single private stable or owner.

Currently, Schoenthal has a roster of 28 horses for about 20 different clients, and he believes having a passion for horses is the single most important characteristic for a trainer.

As a very young child growing up in Illinois, Schoenthal took his first pony ride while on vacation with his parents, promptly becoming the first “horse person” in his family. Now a father of three, Schoenthal tells his kids that horse training isn’t for them if they can’t take losing well.

“The highs are high but the lows are low, so you have to maintain an even keel,” he said. “The old saying is, ‘There are a million and one things that can go wrong with a racehorse and they usually do,’ so it’s not a game for the faint of heart.”

As for racehorse owners, whose expectations he also has to manage, “you don’t judge an owner on how they take bad news but on how they handle good horses.”

Because a trainer’s earnings are largely based on a percentage of winnings, income varies greatly from year to year. Trainers typically earn between $20,000 and $60,000 a year but when a good horse wins a high-dollar race, a trainer can make a six-figure salary.

Don’t count on that, Schoenthal advised: “It’s a terrible business,” he laughed. “Trainers are the dumbest people in the world.”

He recalls years when the economy tanked, when owners’ businesses went belly up and they couldn’t pay him, and a particularly lean four years from 2009-2012 when he worked full-time selling industrial pumps and valves while training a few horses on the side.

“I was in a bad way,” he said. “I was broke, I had two little kids, and I had to cut back to training four horses. I’d come into the barn from 5:30 in the morning until 8, go to work, then come back to the barn.”

But fortunes can turn around at the race track and, in 2017, Schoenthal had his winningest year ever, with his horses earning $1,325,369.

For most horses he trains, as job security, Schoenthal purchases a ten percent share. Besides paying his own salary, he also pays his employees, and foots other expenses related to his horses with the exception of vet bills, which are paid by the owners.

Owners pay Schoenthal a day rate to offset the daily expenses of training, while and trainers rely on commissions for the lion’s share of their earnings. Jockeys work through their own agents, and might not ever meet a horse until right before a race.

Kim Genner is one of about a dozen staff who help care for the racehourses in trainer Phil Schoenthal’s stables.

Schoenthal employs grooms, “hotwalkers” (who walk horses around after a workout), exercise riders (who are separate from jockeys), assistant trainers and therapists.

Known for being brutally honest with owners, Schoenthal is a straight talker. “From my view, I don’t think you can make a horse run any faster than he’s capable of running. My job is to try to keep that horse 100 percent fit, sound, and happy so that he can perform at his peak every time.”

Racehorses in training may do a timed speed workout every seven to nine days. Other training days might include one lap of jogging and one lap of galloping around the roughly one-and-one-eighth mile track to build endurance.

“When horses arrive here, they’ve already been at a training center,” Schoenthal explained, “and they might already know how to do a workout. Most of them already understand not to be nervous or silly. A better way to look at a horse trainer is part project manager, part conditioner.”

Therapy for his horses is a huge focus for Schoenthal, who recently got a Small Business Administration loan for $100,000 to purchase an equine spa – essentially a bubbling ice bath machine – for his barn. His horses also rely on pulsed electromagnetic and laser therapies. “It extends their careers and makes them feel better,” he said.

He also grows his own sprouted barley in a hydroponic onsite greenhouse, feed that increases hydration and gives horses a more efficient uptake of nutrients.

Determined Heart, a two-year-old filly,  purchased for $63,000, will have access to all of those perks, in return for giving Schoenthal what he calls “that spark and joy of a dream.”
A saying among trainers is that nobody with an un-raced two-year-old ever committed suicide. A churchgoing man, Schoenthal prefers to loosely quote 1 Corinthians: “Without hope, I am of all men most miserable.”

As Determined Heart heads to the track, Schoenthal is watching avidly. “Sometimes that horse, that one horse, shows up in your barn, and it changes everything. This is a game for dreamers and optimists.”

GSA replaces DUNS with SAMMI

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The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) recently announced the award of a $41.8 million-dollar five-year contract to Ernst and Young LLP (EY) that will replace the decades-long contract held by Dun & Bradstreet to provide entity validation services, currently known as the Data Universal Number System (DUNS®.)

This move will affect every federal agency and the hundreds of thousands of contractors, individuals, and other organizations registered to do business with or receive grants from the U.S. federal government in this all-encompassing transition away from the DUNS to a non-proprietary unique identity identifier.

This March 18 notification is a huge blow to Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) which in just the last fiscal year was awarded over $68 million in 192 federal transactions across defense and civilian agencies. And in the last ten years, D&B realized over $639 million in federal revenues providing similar proprietary DUNS-related services to all federal agencies, according to USASpending.gov.

Every entity receiving contracts or grants must be registered in the System for Award Management (SAM) website at SAM.gov, where the DUNS has served as a public-facing unique identification number, thereby keeping sensitive tax identification numbers private.

Through this new contract, the government will transition from the DUNS numbering system to a new government-owned SAM Managed Identifier (SAMMI), which will be used as a primary key to identify every existing and new entity within SAM.gov. GSA plans to enable a successful transition to the SAMMI to be completed by 2020.

In replacing the DUNS with SAMMI, the government will no longer be dependent upon a proprietary D&B-owned data system.

The SAMMI unique entity identifier is tied in SAM.gov to the legal entity name, ‘doing business as’ name, and the physical address that corresponds to it. All entities awarded federal procurement and grants actions, with rare exceptions, are required to register in SAM.

The information from SAM is used throughout the government, to include all aspects of the procurement and financial assistance processes. For historical purposes, DUNS information will continue to be available for awards made prior to the SAMMI transition

GSA acknowledges that this transition to SAMMI will be complicated, and states in its interact.gsa.gov website that specific transition plans will be published at a later date.

All businesses, individuals and government entities using sam.gov will receive notification through existing communication channels and updates will be posted to the GSA Interact platform at https://interact.gsa.gov/.

 

Gloria Larkin is president and CEO of TargetGov and a national expert in business development in the government markets. 

Demand rising for senior housing- New sites needed for growing population

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“There’s not enough senior housing in Howard County,” said Kelly Cimino, director of the Howard County Department of Housing and Community Development.

One solution may be Erickson Living’s (EL) proposed Limestone Valley project, which Howard County Planning Board recommended move forward in late March.

Watercolor rendering of the proposed Erickson Living at Limestone Valley community where more than 1,200 living units are planned for Clarksville.

If Erickson Living at Limestone Valley is eventually approved by the county’s zoning board, the continuing care retirement community (CCRC) would rise near the intersection of routes 108 and 32, in Clarksville.

Lack of inventory and long waiting lists aren’t the only issues in the senior housing market.

Cimino also expressed concerns about what is really available to seniors who might want to move to a CCRC. “Many senior units are affordable in terms of the area’s median income,” she said, “but that often doesn’t make them affordable to seniors who live on a fixed income.”

In the Pipeline

The tight market isn’t a surprise given the Baltimore area’s occupancy rate, according to Beth Mace, chief economist with the Annapolis-based National Investment Center (NIC) for Senior Housing and Care.

In a market that encompasses independent and assisted living and memory care, Mace noted an occupancy rate of 92.4 percent in the Baltimore area, which is the second highest in the country out of the 31 largest metro markets; the lowest is Houston, at 80.9 percent.

Lana Peck, NIC senior principal, noted occupancy rates of 87.1 percent in Howard County and 91.9 percent in Anne Arundel; the highest in the area is Harford County, at 96.7 percent.

So, what’s new?

In Anne Arundel, Arbor Terrace Waugh Chapel is set to open this spring; with Bay Village Assisted Living & Memory Care in Annapolis, and Spring Arbor Crofton to open later this year; Brightview Crofton Riverwalk will debut in February 2020. In Howard County, only Arbor Terrace Maple Lawn is in the pipeline. It will open this spring.

All of that construction “lends to downward pressure on occupancy,” said Peck. “While most seniors remain in their residences” – the penetration rate of seniors aged 75-plus households is 11.9 percent (nationally, it’s 10.8 percent) – “we’re finding more are opting for the senior living lifestyle, due to the socialization opportunities, hospitality, sophisticated wellness programs and fewer responsibilities.”

Partner(s) Needed

The Business Monthly requested an interview regarding Limestone Valley, which would encompass 1,200 independent living units and a combination of 240 assisted living and skilled nursing units, for this article, which was denied by Erickson. Instead, the company issued this statement after the recent public meeting at the George Howard Building, Ellicott City.

“We are pleased that the Planning Board voted unanimously recommending approval of the Erickson Living at Limestone Valley community subject to the Department of Planning and Zoning’s final recommendations,” said Sean Sands, executive vice president, business strategy and development for Erickson. “We look forward to the next step in the process, with the goal of bringing Erickson’s vibrant retirement lifestyle to seniors in Howard County.”

Columbia Association declined to comment for this article, but Steven Snelgrove, president of Howard County General Hospital (HCGH), offered his views.

“Howard County is growing older at one of the fastest rates of any place in Maryland, with the population aged 65 and older doubling over a decade. People want to age in place here because of the tremendous quality of life,” said Snelgrove. “But older residents consume more health care, and HCGH is committed to working with community partners to create an effective and seamless health care delivery system for them.

He said, “Part of our goal is to make sure people don’t have to come to the hospital because their chronic conditions are being properly managed and they have the social supports – housing, food and transportation – to keep them well,” he said. “CCRCs are valuable partners. They are designed to provide those social supports, and also have health care resources on site.”

Snelgrove added that help is needed at HCGH, too. “The truth is, our hospital does need more infrastructure and programs to serve this aging population,” he said, “and it is through working effectively with these communities that we can manage resources and build the system of care we need.”

News Soon?

As for Limestone Valley, the Howard County Planning Board recommended that the county’s zoning board (the County Council) approve the rezoning of 62.1 acres to allow the development of the CCRC at the recent public meeting.

Erickson submitted a petition to the county last November to amend the zoning of three properties at the intersection of Route 108 and Sheppard Lane. The change to a Community Enhancement Floating Zone was needed to move forward with plans to construct the project. The planning board reviewed the submissions and made its recommendation to the zoning board. If the project is eventually approved by the zoning board, Erickson Living will be able to submit plans to the county for the development of the CCRC.

Today, three more projects that could include senior housing are also in the queue for hearings: Hickory Ridge Village Center, the Elm Street Development/Roberts Property on Route 1 and the Enterprise Homes proposal on Route 108 at Sheppard Lane.

Phyllis Madachy, local human services consultant, said Erickson “heard concerns about additional traffic on Route 108,” but thinks “Howard County has room for another CCRC.

“I understand that the units would be priced in a range that is suitable for the local market. I hope the number of moderately-priced units would exceed the 10 percent that is required by the county’s department of housing,” Madachy said, adding, “Know that the skilled care doesn’t even need to be on the campus, just nearby. That’s the case with the Lutheran Village at Miller’s Grant,” in Ellicott City.

Cimino agrees. She said the county “is working with Erickson, and Erickson has been cooperative,” noting that enhancements like an expanded roadway, a traffic light, sidewalks and more open space are part of the discussion.

“Therefore, I would like to see Limestone built, too,” she said. “Our population is aging, and while there are several senior developments in the county that offer affordable units, we’ve been told in various ways that there are not enough of them.”

Women startups struggle for funds- Venture capital flows to men, TEDCO wants change

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An entrepreneur with a great idea for a business often needs start-up funds. Finding venture capital is essential, especially as small businesses begin to grow into big businesses.

For women, finding those investment funds is even more challenging than it is for male entrepreneurs.

According to the Columbia-based Maryland Technology Development Corp. (TEDCO) many women entrepreneurs get less venture capital funding.

A Crunchbase News study indicated that, in 2018, just 10 percent of all global venture dollars went toward solely women-owned startups – an increase from previous years; however, that’s still significantly less than the 83 percent of all global venture dollars directed towards men-owned startups.

Similarly, the percentage of global seed dollars in 2018 directed to women-owned startups was just 6 percent, compared to the 80 percent received for men-owned startups.
TEDCO is addressing the funding gap via its new Task Force for Women Entrepreneurs, which will analyze the challenges that women face when accessing seed capital.

‘Next Step’

At the helm of the task force will be Myra Norton, vice chair of the TEDCO board and president and COO of Baltimore-based Arena; and Jennifer Hammaker, TEDCO vice president of business development, who will serve as chief liaison between TEDCO and the task force.

Running the Maryland Technology Development Corp.’s (TEDCO) Task Force for Women Entrepreneurs are Myra Norton of Arnea Inc., and TEDCO’s Jennifer Hammaker.

“We’ve seen research on three primary groups – rural, women-owned and African American – that led to TEDCO launching filter funds, with the pilot focused on the African American funding two years ago,” said Norton. She acknowledged multiple challenges, such as determining “what percentage of the population even decides to start a business, how many are women and how many get early-stage seed money,” which precedes the need for venture capital.

“At this point, we’re assembling a diverse task force with a number of women who have run businesses,” she said, noting it should consist of between eight to 12 thought leaders, and will include men.

More Access

Hammaker and other liaisons will include TEDCO’s Angela Singleton, who co-manages the builder fund; and Arti Santhanam, director of the Maryland Innovation Initiative.

“We’ll look to other states with similar programs that we can learn from, too,” Hammaker said. TEDCO and other concerned entities “are rightly focused on disparity,” said Larry Jacob, vice president of public affairs with the Kansas City, Mo.-based Kauffman Foundation, who noted that all women founding teams raised about 2.2 percent of all venture capital in 2017, compared to all male teams getting 79 percent and mixed teams garnering 12 percent (with the remainder non-specified).

In addition to starting task forces to make progress, “We can do a few other things,” Jacob said. “For instance, the foundation has launched Capital Access Labs” in the effort to catalyze financing mechanisms to serve entrepreneurs who can’t access venture capital or bank loans. “Part of this equation is thinking about who is starting the firm and what type of potential and earnings it has. Entrepreneurs need greater access to capital so startups that are making inroads can grow.”

Another avenue is innovation, “which can result in more capital coming from succeeding in a business,” he said. “Employees can make an investment from their salaries, investments or whatever else. It’s similar to when angel capital started, and angels, who are often retired government employees or contractors, could easily make a $5,000 investment.

“I also think there will be ongoing national, state and local policy changes,” he said, “that will get these people to the table earlier and provide more money.”

Women Replaced

The task force is being welcomed locally. Mike Binko, CEO with Startup Maryland, cited studies that revealed that decision-making within diverse teams, compared to homogeneous teams, often occurs at an accelerated pace.

“Diverse teams bring diverse perspectives and experiences to challenges, questions and opportunities,” said Binko. “If they’re amplified with empathetic team building and leadership skills, the results are compelling. Diverse teams are also more natural at attracting a more comprehensive customer base, which can lead to faster scale and/or profit.”

Ellen Hemmerly, executive director at bwtech@UMBC Research & Technology Park, called the task force “a much needed initiative for the state of Maryland and for the nation.

Women entrepreneurs of early stage companies face many obstacles in obtaining funding and support. I have seen too many examples of women entrepreneurs being replaced in leadership positions in order to successfully raise funding.

“This initiative,” she said, “and programs like [UMBC’s] ACTiVATE, which supports women building technology companies, are important to help reverse the inequities that female entrepreneurs face.”

Julie Lenzer, chief innovation officer at the University of Maryland College Park, said, “It’s an economic imperative. If we’re not tapping into the good ideas of women, and they’re now a majority, we all miss out. Innovation is not relegated to one demographic or gender. Being inclusive is helped by having role models; if all successful role models we tout are young men, it’s harder for other groups to see themselves in those roles.”

Lenzer added that she was once on a panel about women entrepreneurship – and the rest of the panel members were men. On another occasion, she was on a panel judging a business plan competition, and two of the other judges were white men who wouldn’t consider a plan offered by a women because the product was geared toward African-American women and they didn’t understand it.

“I told them that the product had potential,” she said. “An African-American man on the panel confirmed this. Happily, they were open to our input, but without diverse perspectives so many opportunities are missed

This effort isn’t about lowering the bar, Lenzer said, but rather democratizing opportunities. “The market often decides what turns into a successful business,” Lenzer said, “and raising capital can’t just be about an entrepreneur’s network, family money or old paradigms.”

At a to-be-determined point, the task force will deliver a report to the TEDCO Board of Directors with its findings and recommendations. All involved are hopeful that at least some of the outcomes will be in place by the next TEDCO Expo, which will be held on Oct. 29, again at The Hotel at College Park.

Norton is optimistic that the collaboration will have a solid result.

“It will take a village, because it’s a global problem and we want to connect with folks outside of Maryland, too,” she said. “The reason we’re doing this now is TEDCO identified that we have good programs, but we also need to see where we are missing the mark.”

Stopping the stigma- Mental health gains from awareness

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Count Patrick Finley among the health professionals who are encouraged when a celebrity makes a public admission about a personal struggle with mental illness.

Mental illness advocated credit celebrities, like Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, with helping to reduce the stigma.

Finley, professor of health and human performance at Howard Community College (HCC), said such statements by those who are admired, such as singer Miley Cyrus, Olympic swimming multi-gold medalist Michael Phelps and actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, have helped squelch the stigma for individuals who have experienced mental health issues.

“That’s been a big push the past couple of years,” he said, “and the more celebrities and athletes who come out and acknowledge it, the better.”

That’s because when addressing the problem, acknowledgement is often a long time coming, and the lack of a diagnosis and ensuing treatment means lives can twist into a downward spiral before they improve. Perhaps the saddest part of this scenario is that “the people who end up incarcerated are often really unaware of their problem,” Finley said.

But today, with May 2019 marking the 70th anniversary of Mental Health Awareness Month, that’s not the only concern under discussion. For instance, along with removing the shame is the lack of access to treatment and insurance paying for it.

Finding Care

Part of arranging treatment is understanding that, if a patient has a problem concerning brain chemistry, “no amount of therapy will help,” Finley said. “However, on the other hand, you also hear about the problem of overprescribing drugs, like Ritalin, to address the illness.”

He went on to say that four mental illnesses that have recently come to the fore.
“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is at the top of the list, because it gets more press,”

Finley said, “then depression, which is primary and secondary to other conditions, notably dementia; followed by addiction in general, notably the drug addiction/opioid epidemic and even gambling problems; and anxiety disorders, which are not as severe and are often underdiagnosed.”

Be Aware

Noting the word “awareness” in the name of Mental Health Awareness Month is key to removing the stigma, said Kate Farinholt, executive director with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Maryland, in Columbia.

“The fact is that one in five families in Maryland have a member who suffers from a mental illness,” said Farinholt, pointing out how important awareness is.

“If individuals dealing with mental illness don’t talk about it like they do any other illness, they continue to feel stigmatized,” Farinholt said. “Victims need to feel supported, and society needs to understand that addictive treatment and support services for these people needs to be available and funded – that includes the services being paid by insurance as other illnesses are, as well as ensuring that mental health professionals are adequately reimbursed.”

She would also like to see employers get more involved.

“Worker productivity would increase if this topic were permissible to discuss,” Farinholt said, adding that NAMI Maryland is hoping to start a campaign to create a stigma-free workplace “within the next year.”

Denise Giuliano would like to see that happen, too. The executive director of NAMI Howard County said it’s important for the public to “see the illness, not the disease,” and to beware of stereotypes, “because if you label [the individual], it’s harder to see the person. The illness is one aspect of their life, but it should not define them.”

Also, the media needs to be aware of not reinforcing the stigma by using terms like ‘looney,’ ‘nuts’ and ‘crazy,’ ” Giuliano said. “People don’t make fun of others who have cancer or other conditions.”

Today, however, Guiliano and others are pleased that efforts to treat mental illness are ramping up with Howard County General Hospital adding more psychiatry beds to its emergency department and soon moving its behavioral health services to new quarters; and the rise, in Elkridge, of the 90-bed Sheppard Pratt facility.

Those two projects are in addition to Anne Arundel Medical Center building the J. Kent McNew Family Medical Center on Riva Road in Annapolis, which will open with 16 beds in mid-2020 and Baltimore Washington Medical Center recently unveiling its expanded-to-24-bed psychiatric inpatient unit.

Those additions “aren’t all we need but they represent solid progress.” Guiliano said.
Dr. Ben Borja, medical director of crisis services and director of education, for Sheppard Pratt Health System, also pointed to “an acute shortage of psychiatric practitioners.

“About 111 million people in the U.S. live in mental health professional shortage areas, and the number of psychiatrists in more than half of U.S. counties is zero,” said Borja.

“Three out of five psychiatrists are over the age of 55, and more than 60 percent of practicing psychiatrists are over the age of 55.”

Fortunately, the number of psychiatry residency training positions is increasing. “This year there were 1,740 positions, which is 184 more than in 2018. Additionally, loan repayment/amortization incentives are being offered to have psychiatrists practice in rural areas.”

Borja sees other bright spots. “Access to care is improving as the need for treatment has never been greater. One solution to reaching areas with psychiatrist shortages is through tele psychiatry, because it provides patients with the therapy and medication management they need, in real time, without geographic barriers. It also helps to reduce gaps in care, especially in rural communities, long-term care facilities, emergency departments and departments of corrections, among other sectors.”

So, all told, there are rays of light within the darkness of mental illness and barriers to its treatment.

“There are still many people who deny having a problem or are not told what symptoms to look for. The individuals who are diagnosed and treated early have a much better chance of getting better,” said Farinholt. “We’ve already come a long way. Things are so much better than they were 10 years ago.”

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