BY STEPH QUINN
SILVER SPRING, Md. — Lawmakers, clinicians, and educators gathered Thursday for a ribbon-cutting celebration of Compass Health Center, which aims to provide timely mental health crisis care to adolescent and adult patients throughout Maryland, where emergency room wait times are the longest in the nation.
Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith, D-Montgomery, who attended the event, said the center, which opened in September, is a key step to connecting all patients in need with appropriate services.
“A lot of times, because there’s a dearth and lack of mental health services, our jails become de facto treatment centers,” Smith said. “It ends up costing the taxpayer a lot of money. It’s not good for the patient. It’s not good for the families, and it’s not good for the state of Maryland.”
Compass Health Center does not currently accept Medicare or Medicaid, but Compass Clinical Vice President Erin VanLuven told guests the center refers patients to other resources.
The center offers in-person and virtual partial hospitalization, or day programs, and intensive outpatient care for patients 12 and older, with specialized treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder, trauma, substance abuse and school anxiety, in addition to depression and general anxiety.
Dr. David Schreiber, CEO and co-founder of Compass, which operates three health centers in the Chicago area, stated the importance of working with emergency rooms to get patients immediate care, and to prevent hospitalization when possible.
Hospital inpatient units are “costly resources (and) not always the most therapeutic,” Schreiber said.“If we’re using waiting lists as a point of (access to) treatment, then we are not treating mental health in parity with physical health.”
Compass, he said, begins providing comprehensive mental health services to patients within 24 hours of contact and offers psychiatric evaluation within 48 hours.
Patients wait an average of three hours and 48 minutes for mental health care in Maryland emergency rooms, according to Dr. Norvell Coots, the president and CEO of Holy Cross Health.
Lawmakers will work toward mental health parity for Maryland residents on Medicaid as the 2024 General Assembly session approaches, Smith said.
“That’s something that we will be addressing,” he said.
For Denise Key, director of counseling and student support at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, facilities like Compass meet a critical need.
“I never feel good about when someone’s expressing suicidal ideation to have to send them to the ER,” said Key. “…So to know that a place like this exists, where they can get an assessment and evaluation and care within 24 hours is pretty amazing.”