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Medical adult day care at Harford Communit College closing, funding to go to substance abuse, mental health treatment

The Aegis - 11/21/2017

Nov. 21--As the heroin and opioid epidemic continues in Harford County, so does the need for addiction and mental health treatment for addicts.

One such program, Family and Children's Services, in Harford County is looking to increase the substance abuse services it provides, but it's coming at a cost -- the closure of its Medical Adult Day Care program at Harford Community College.

The 30-year-old program provides a place for senior citizens in Harford County who are too healthy for nursing homes, but too frail for regular senior centers, to get the proper medical attention they need and participate in activities that keep them moving both physically and mentally. It will be closing at the end of the year, F.B. Burden, CEO of Family and Children's Services, said.

The last day for clients is Dec. 8, according to a letter from Burden dated Nov. 1 and sent to clients' family members that cites declining enrollment and a lack of local support as the reasons for closing. Family and Children's Services has committed to helping families find alternate programs.

"At the end of the day it's a business decision, but it was really looking at the census and a lack of ongoing support," Burden said Monday. "It's very difficult to do because for a lot of those families there aren't a lot of other alternatives."

Family and Children's Services will remain in Harford, but shift its focus to other programs that address more pressing needs, including substance abuse and mental health treatment.

"With things going on in the county, particularly around chronic substance abuse, opiate abuse issues, we have an opportunity to have more impact in Bel Air and Harford County by putting those resources into the behavioral health and case management services that we do," Burden said.

Staff are already working with Bel Air Police Department officers so that when they encounter people with substance abuse and/or mental health issues, the officers can direct them where to get the services they need.

"We're putting our resources into what the community is expressing are its needs," Burden said. "The community was speaking when people were not showing up and there weren't support dollars for the medical adult day care."

FCS has applied to the state to expand its program in Harford, which has an office on Gordon Street, to become a license outpatient mental health facility.

Once that is obtained, the agency will provide psychiatric services for children, adolescents and adults. They will be able to provide medical management to trauma victims and others who suffer from mental health issues.

"We'll be able to see a wider range of clients with various needs," Burden said. "It will allow us to do more substance abuse counseling and more administration of psychiatric medications."

The agency accepts all forms of insurance. Anyone who needs the services can call 410-669-9000 for an over-the-phone assessment. Clients will then be connected to an appropriate therapist based on their specific needs.

Burden said he hopes the additional services will be in place by January or February.

Family and Children's Services also works with the Harford County Child Advocacy Center, providing counseling to victims of sexual abuse.

Fewer clients, less support

Over the years, the daily client census at the Medical Adult Day Care program had dwindled from about 35-40 people a day to 20, sometimes only 15 or 16, Burden said.

"Maybe over the years, a host of additional choices have become available if the families have the resources," he said.

The FCS program was the only nonprofit medical adult day care in Harford. The cost charged to clients is based on income, "so low-income and middle-income families could afford to send their loved ones there," Burden said. The cost was about $90 a day, he said.

In addition to providing activities for clients, the adult day care provides personal care, administers medications and ensures that clients have the right diets. So cutting staff was not a viable option, he said.

"We need a certain number of people a day to make the program ... work because of a lot of regulatory requirements in terms of staffing -- aides, nursing aides, activity coordinators," Burden said. "We ... need those people to make it work."

Burden, who joined Family and Children's services a couple years ago, said he was charged with taking a closer look at the adult program and working more closely with the Harford advisory board to understand what the challenges were and to whom to address some of them.

The agency spent much of the last year trying to bring the program to the attention of the local government, not only for financial support but also for referral services to increase its client base, Burden said. About $80,000 was raised, but the same amount would be needed annually to sustain the program.

"We wanted to garner more local support to ensure the program could stay and be a resource to the community," he said.

The agency was not in a position to subsidize the program in the county for six-figures without additional local support and help, Burden said.

The county Office on Aging did provide additional scholarship days at the program, but no additional ongoing funding. The agency was encouraged to apply for various grants, which it did, but only received an additional $4,500, which wasn't enough to close the $80,000 gap it would need to stay open, he said.

"As an agency, we can't put those resources there every year without some local support. Everywhere else we have some local support to ensure those services are there for the families that need them," Burden said. "The local support is not there, the clients are not there. That said to us, we really should be putting our energies into things the community is showing a need for."

After learning in October 2016 that the program suffered a reduction in a state grant, the county provided FCS with assistance over the last year to help keep the program running, according to Cindy Mumby, spokesperson for Harford County government.

About $75,000 would be needed to offset the loss, she said the county was told.

The county provided about $59,000 and undertook several initiatives to help find clients who were privately able to pay to help subsidize the program.

The county provided technical assistance in terms of free and low-cost activities to support daily routines. It gave FCS its advertising space in one issue of Harford Heart magazine to advertise its services and targeted outreach to find private pay clients, Mumby said.

"There was a pathway to viability for the adult medical day care, and we worked extensively to help them get there," Mumby said. "Adult medical day care did not solicit additional money from the county to prevent this closing."

She said it's unfortunate the program has to close.

"For families who need these services, they're very important and it can be stressful for families seeking care for their loved ones. That's why we are working to find alternative solutions and [alternative] care for these citizens through a variety of outlets," Mumby said.

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(c)2017 The Aegis (Bel Air, Md.)

Visit The Aegis (Bel Air, Md.) at www.baltimoresun.com/explore/harford/publications/the-aegis

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