Former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman signed an Executive Order on June 11, 2014, to develop a Howard County task force to assist in the development of a Comprehensive Behavioral Health Action Plan for the county. Composed of 31 members, the task force was co-chaired by Donna Wells, executive director of the Howard County Mental Health Authority, and Nikki Highsmith Vernick, from The Horizon Foundation, and included representatives from Howard County General Hospital and various county agencies, as well as health care providers, members of the faith community and advocacy organizations.

The task force had its first meeting on Oct. 8, 2014, and delivered its recommendations to Kittleman on March 27, 2015.

The mission of the BHTF was as follows.

  • To understand the roles played by all community partners in providing ongoing support for individuals with mental illness as well as in reducing the frequency and intensity of mental health crises.
  • To identify gaps in the continuum of care. These services might include consistent access to outpatient treatment and psychiatric services, as well as critical supportive services such as wrap-around stabilizing services, peer support services, community re-entry support post-discharge from detention center, housing, employment and case management.
  • To identify synergies and strategies to maximize return on existing investments in this area as well as to understand where additional funding or support, both public and private, should be directed in the future.
  • To develop an action plan with policy, program and funding recommendations to enable the implementation of a preventative and recovery-oriented continuum of care for both Howard County adults and children.

In the early meetings, the task force formed four subcommittees: Criminal Justice Subcommittee, Primary Care Work Group, Screening and Prevention Work Group and a Super Users Work Group.

The task force made the following recommendations.

  • Strengthen the delivery of urgently needed behavioral health services.
  • Develop a coordinated effort to assist providers of behavioral health services in resolving private insurance problems and help consumers navigate private insurance barriers.
  • Better screen for behavioral health conditions in the county by supporting the development and use of universal screening tools.
  • Educate the community about how to identify signs of behavioral health issues, how to connect with community resources and how to act in a more informed manner.
  • Help residents access services by widely distributing current information on behavioral health providers in Howard County on an ongoing basis.
  • Help individuals involved with the criminal justice system find community resources by funding a position to coordinate across agencies.
  • Support the Local Health Improvement Coalition (LHIC) and its members as it advances its strategic plan 2015–2017.

Beverley Francis-Gibson is executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Howard County and served on the Behavioral Health Task Force. She can be reached at 410-772-9300 or bfgibson.namihc@gmail.com.