The Health Department was summoned to Baltimore City Circuit Court late last year to make a compelling case as to why they should not be held in contempt for the creation of what many consider a “public health crisis” -- the lack of beds available for mentally ill defendants in Maryland’s justice system. The lack of beds for these patients in need, who in many instances have yet to be found guilty of a crime, speaks volumes about the priorities of the Hogan Administration as well as his beleaguered Acting Health Secretary, Dennis Schrader. Schrader, a professional engineer by training with no professional medical background, has stumbled through his limited tenure at the health department with lackluster results.
For some time now, a severe shortage of beds in mental health facilities has deprived those most in need of care from receiving it in a timely fashion. The fact that a shortage of beds exists has been known not only to those working in those facilities and government officials, but also to our judicial system who finally got tired of waiting for Schrader to act. Advocates and Democratic leaders have called on Acting Secretary Schrader to comply and simply do his job by helping those in need.
The situation at the state’s mental hospitals is dire, creating unsafe working conditions for the many workers who are forced into overtime without proper funding and required to do the critical work that keeps the hospitals functioning. Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Maryland Council 3, has been calling on both Hogan and Schrader to do the right thing by creating a safe working environment in the state’s mental health hospitals and providing the necessary beds. With this knowledge, Acting Health Secretary Dennis Schrader failed to put into motion a plan to address these repeated failures in his leadership. The seriousness of ignoring the court order has ramifications on those who need care most and a continuing significant burden on those working tirelessly in the state hospitals that are actually providing care.
Democratic leaders around the state have demanded answers and action from an administration called to act on this matter, for far too long. State Senator Richard S. Madaleno Jr., Democratic candidate for governor, and Baltimore City Delegate Antonio Hayes have been extremely disappointed with the lack of care and action for not only people in need, but also the cavalier attitude of Acting Health Secretary Dennis Schrader. Judge Rasin condemned the agency for its failure to act despite “years of notice about the problem.”
Another Democratic candidate for governor has taken things further, calling for the resignation of Dennis Schrader. Jim Shea, former chair of Veneable LLP, lamented the situation, stating, “Dennis Schrader is unqualified for the job and should resign.” Highlighting the lack of credentials to run a billion-dollar agency with such serious responsibilities left Shea questioning what Hogan was thinking. Shea also highlighted a flaw in leadership when he said, “Larry Hogan, who served as Governor Erhlich’s secretary of appointments, should have known better.”
When pressed about the issues outside of the courthouse earlier this week, Schrader deflected to his staff. Judge Rasin further opined on Schrader’s inability to lead on this issue, saying, “He perceives his responsibility to be to direct staff to solve problems. But the overall impression is that he is disconnected from the process.”
But as the wait continues for the Hogan administration to act definitively on fixing this health crisis, the lack of clear leadership at the health department is hurting people in desperate need of immediate attention to treat their mental health. Perhaps in the near future, Schrader and his staff can find some beds for those looking for the help they deserve from the Hogan administration.