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Maryland Decreases Psychiatric Hospital Bed Backlog

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The number of court-ordered individuals waiting to be treated in Maryland state psychiatric hospitals decreased by about 85 percent since May, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Maryland’s health Secretary Van T. Mitchell created a workgroup at the beginning of the summer to address the backlog of admissions.

He met with lawmakers and members of the community Tuesday in Annapolis to discuss the findings and recommendations of the workgroup.

“Bed availability is really based upon admissions and clinically appropriate discharges,” said Barbara Bazron, executive director of the Behavioral Health Administration. “We have to manage that process on a day to day basis.”

The issue has been ongoing for the past decade but became more urgent in May when 84 people were caught in limbo between criminal charges and treatment in state psychiatric hospitals.

The lack of availability in psychiatric hospitals means forensic patients, or people deemed unfit mentally to stand trial, are sent to jail.

Delegate Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery, a member of Mitchell’s workgroup, expressed concern Tuesday that without access to the hospitals, patients may be detained illegally.

“Jail is operating in the middle,” District Court Chief Judge John Morrissey, a member of the workgroup, said. “I don’t think the jails are equipped to treat mental health issues.”

There are five state psychiatric hospitals in Maryland. On Tuesday, Mitchell said Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, Springfield Hospital Center, Spring Grove Hospital Center, Thomas B. Finan Center and Eastern Shore Hospital Center have a total capacity of 944 beds.

Among them, Perkins is the only designated forensic facility, however all five hospitals treat court-ordered patients.

One person in a state facility bed costs more than $200,000 per year, according to the Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland.

Mitchell said the state health department started working on the psychiatric hospital capacity issue in Maryland about a year ago.

But Mitchell’s workgroup found the backlog was not solely due to an inadequate number of beds.

“None of our hospitals basically communicated on a day-to-day basis,” Mitchell said. “Now they do.”

Maryland’s health department hired a new behavioral health executive director and installed CEOs at two of the five state psychiatric hospitals.

The Behavioral Health Administration monitored admissions and discharge data weekly.

The administration also went through 98 cases individually of patients labeled “ready to discharge” yet who remained in the hospitals. Fifty-two of these 98 patients were released.

“I could not have been happier with Secretary Mitchell’s presentation,” Baltimore City District Court Judge George Lipman said. “He has been very sincere in taking responsibility … He needs staff, unquestionably.”

Other groups at the hearing asked for better funding.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene received an additional $3 million from the state for this fiscal year, including more money for addiction services.

The Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland said the backlog of pending patients in state facilities is in part due to a lack of investment in community-based behavioral health services.

Community-based programs are an alternative to hospitals, or the next step for patients ready for discharge from the state psychiatric facilities.

A spokeswoman for the association said it serves about 180,000 children and adults in Maryland’s public behavioral health system.

Dan Martin, Maryland Behavioral Health Coalition spokesman, said there needs to be a strengthening in community-based health to divert people from hospitals.

Representatives from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union for public service employees, asked for more properly trained staff and higher levels of compensation in the psychiatric hospitals.

Mitchell said the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will establish a committee to track the progress of state hospitals and continue to make recommendations.

Twelve court-ordered patients still need beds in the psychiatric facilities, Mitchell said Tuesday.

“We need to own up to it,” Mitchell said. “We can’t sit here and expect everything to be perfect.”

By Vickie Connor

High-Speed Broadband Access Sparse in Rural Maryland Counties

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screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-2-06-36-pmRural areas in less populated Maryland counties have significantly less access to high speed internet than people in more populated parts of the state, preventing them from fully participating in our increasingly connected world. For example, two-thirds of people in Somerset County on the Eastern Shore lack access to a connection with download speeds greater than 25 megabytes per second, compared with less than 1 percent in Howard County, according to FCC data.

In sparsely populated counties — like Dorchester on the Eastern Shore — and densely populated counties — like Montgomery County — people who live in rural parts of a county have less access to high speed internet than people in more urbanized parts. But only 6 percent of rural Montgomery county residents lack high speed access — compared with 41 percent of rural Dorchester county residents.

The takeaway: In counties that are more urban than rural, the vast majority of people in the county’s rural areas have good access to high speed internet. In counties that are more rural than urban — like most of the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland — people in rural parts of the county are much more likely to get left behind. Source: Federal Communications Commission.

By Julia Lee
Capital News Service

 

Maryland’s Highest Court Hears Free Speech Case on Spanish Vanity License Plate

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The Maryland Court of Appeals is considering whether the state’s Motor Vehicle Administration acted unconstitutionally in recalling vanity license plates sporting a Spanish scatological word.

In 2009, John T. Mitchell of Accokeek, Maryland, requested and received vanity license plates from the Maryland MVA that read “MIERDA,” a Spanish term that translates to “shit” or “junk.”

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-2-04-57-pmIt was not until December 2011 that he received a letter from the Motor Vehicle Administration stating that his plates were issued in error and asking that Mitchell return them.

“I thought it was a possibility I might get a letter explaining why they wouldn’t issue it, but I got the tag in the mail, no issues with it,” Mitchell said.

Maryland Assistant Attorney General Neil Jacobs, who represented the MVA in the most recent appeal, referred in court to an “Objectionable Plate List” that the MVA maintains. Though not available to the public through the MVA, The Baltimore Sun published the list in 2015 (http://data.baltimoresun.com/banned-license-plates/) and the public can access the list there, Jacobs said.

The list, as published, contains “MIERDA” as well as at least 13 character combinations that include the word “SHIT” and numerous other variations of the word. (https://github.com/baltimore-sun-data/banned-license-plates/blob/master/full-csv#L2812)

“It builds over time…All different combinations of derogatory terms, scatological terms, obscenities that can be created by the manipulation of letters and numbers,” Jacobs said in court.

Mitchell, who lived in Chile as a child and is a native Spanish speaker, thinks ‘mierda’ is “perfectly innocuous and a cute word.”

The word, Mitchell argued, is not obscene under Maryland state law because it does not depict sexual content. While the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled that “mierda” is not an obscene word, the Motor Vehicle Administration, as an entity of the state, may restrict uses of profanity, even if it is not obscene language.

“These words can vary based on the language, based on the culture and based on the era we happen to be living in,” Mitchell said.

Spanish words can have different meanings and uses across the 20 countries in which Spanish is the official language or any region where people speak Spanish. What refers to a drinking straw in Colombia is slang for a marijuana joint in Puerto Rico.

The MVA has rejected or banned vanity plates with characters that may appear to identify cars as belonging to government agencies or emergency services. The MVA also imposes logistical restrictions, like how many characters fit on a plate.

The issue before the court rests on whether the characters on vanity license plates are government speech, and on the classification of license plates as a public forum.

Mark Graber, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, said that vanity license plates are “in part the state delivering the message,” and that “while the state cannot prevent you from speaking, when the state delivers a message, the state can determine what message the state wants to deliver.”

“I was a little bit offended that a progressive state like Maryland would be, in my view, violating First Amendment rights,” Mitchell said. “The really important principle for me is we can’t have the state censoring speech.”

Mitchell, a First Amendment and copyright lawyer in Washington, D.C., represented himself throughout the case, appearing before an administrative law judge, arguing at the Court of Special Appeals in 2014 (http://mdcourts.gov/opinions/cosa/2015/0713s14.pdf) and delivering oral arguments before Maryland’s highest court Sept. 7.

The state’s highest court is scheduled to confer on Sept. 27, and a decision will follow, on a date chosen at the court’s discretion.

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration website states that “The MVA reserves the right to decline a requested message because it has already been issued or because it is objectionable.” (http://www.mva.maryland.gov/vehicles/licenseplates/personalized-license-plates.htm)

Despite the MVA request that he return the plates more than six years ago, Mitchell continues to use the plates on his car.

“I made it a point to have documentation that there is a case ongoing in case a police officer pulls me over and says I need different tags,” Mitchell said.

By Sam Reilly

5 Things We Learned about Maryland from the Democratic National Committee’s Leaked Emails

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Democratic National Committee emails leaked Friday by Wikileaks revealed that party staff was working to undermine Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

The leak brought down party chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and threw the first day of the Democratic National Convention into disarray. It also revealed that party staffers had some pretty interesting things to say about Maryland and some of its elected leaders.

Here are the five most interesting things we found in the staff emails — everything from disparaging remarks on a delightful town on the Eastern Shore to openly cheering for one candidate in Maryland’s contested Democratic Senate primary.

(We left a message seeking comment with the Democratic Party on the emails included in this story.)

1) A top staffer called Cambridge, Maryland, a “shitty town.”

National Finance Director Jordan Kaplan was asked by a colleague in May about his visit to Cambridge, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

“It was fine. Shitty town and were(sic) only stayed for a few hours. We spent the night in Annapolis.”

2) A party official called news of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s presidential campaign fundraiser “just sad.”

After he ended his quixotic bid for the presidency, O’Malley held an “Irish Wake” to raise money to pay down his campaign debt. DNC Mid-Atlantic Finance Director Alexandra Shapiro forwarded a POLITICO article about the event to a colleague, writing, “This is just sad…”

3) The party’s top spokesman called either O’Malley or the Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent a “joke.”

Baltimore Sun Washington correspondent John Fritze emailed the DNC requesting information about how moderators determined how many questions to ask each candidate during Democratic primary debates.

In forwarding the message to colleagues to determine how to respond, a staffer noted that Fritze’s query came after complaints from O’Malley that he “didn’t get enough time” during debates with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Party Communications Director Luis Miranda responded: “Hilarious. What a joke that guy is. You can tell (Fritze) on background that it’s entirely up to the networks and leave it at that.”

It’s unclear whether Miranda was calling Fritze or O’Malley a joke.

4) The DNC tried to use Maryland’s Steny Hoyer to combat suggestions that the party was in the tank for Hillary Clinton.

A reporter for The Hill asked the DNC to comment on allegations by former Ohio State Sen. Nina Turner that the party mistreated Bernie Sanders during the primaries. Miranda suggested the reporter interview Hoyer to “balance out Nina’s perspective.” Hoyer, an outspoken supporter of Hillary Clinton, “could give you a very different perspective,” Miranda wrote.

5) A staffer called Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s win in the Democratic Senate primary over a fellow Democrat “so beautiful.”

A colleague sent Scott Comer, the party’s finance chief of staff, a link to a tweet noting that Van Hollen had won a hotly contested battle for the Senate seat left open by the retirement of Sen. Barbara Mikulski. Comer’s response from his iPhone: “So beautiful.”

By JULIE GALLAGHER and ANN PARANGOT

 

Maryland GOP Senate Candidate Backs Trump, But Skips His Convention

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Gov. Larry Hogan isn’t the only high-profile Maryland Republican to take a rain check on the GOP’s national convention.

Instead of traveling to her party’s gathering where Donald Trump claimed the GOP’s presidential nomination Wednesday, Maryland House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga decided to remain in her own state to focus on her campaign against Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, for the open U.S. Senate seat.

Delegate Kathy Szeliga announced her campaign for U.S. Senate in November. Capital News Service Photo by Marissa Horn.

Delegate Kathy Szeliga announced her campaign for U.S. Senate in November. Capital News Service Photo by Marissa Horn.

“I am a little sorry I couldn’t be there,” said Szeliga, who represents Baltimore County in the Maryland House of Delegates. “But I should be here (in Maryland) meeting voters.”

Szeliga, who joined Hogan Tuesday in Annapolis at a roundtable discussion on helping veterans and picked up the governor’s formal endorsement, added that she couldn’t justify the expenses
for such a short trip.

“I couldn’t go back to my donors and ask for $2,000 for it,” she said. “So I made a choice.”

This choice, she said, would earn her points among Marylanders for being fiscally conservative, noting that she has significantly less campaign cash than Van Hollen.

The Democrat had raised slightly more than $8 million through the second quarter of 2016, compared with her $434,000, according to OpenSecrets.org, a campaign finance website.

Although a majority of Maryland Republicans – 54 percent – opted to support Trump in the state’s primary April 26, some of the state’s Republicans have kept their distance from the real estate mogul.

Hogan has said he has no plans to vote for Trump and has been critical of him. Szeliga, running in a state that traditionally votes Democratic in presidential elections, has said she will support her party’s nominee, but is concentrating on her own contest.

That doesn’t sit well with some Marylanders here.

Some delegates, who wished to remain anonymous to avoid antagonizing another party member, privately expressed discontent and disappointment with Szeliga’s and Hogan’s absences in Cleveland at a time when unity is a key goal of their party after a fractious primary season.

“Obviously, the hope of the convention is to establish a sense of unity,” Szeliga said. “I’m on ‘Team Kathy.’ I’m very focused on that, and the GOP is focused on ‘Team Trump’ this week.”

Since announcing her candidacy in November, Szeliga has said she would support “the presumptive nominee,” but has openly denounced some of Trump’s statements.

“I have been an independent thinker, and I stand by that,” she said. “I’ll continue to be that person who calls balls and strikes. Voters in Maryland expect (that).”

Representatives from Van Hollen’s campaign criticized Szeliga for any alignment she has with Trump.

“Delegate Szeliga can run from the Republican National Convention, but she cannot hide from the fact that she supports Donald Trump and what he stands for,” said Bridgett Frey, Van Hollen’s campaign spokeswoman. “(She) would only bring the same dysfunction and discord to the U.S. Senate, and Maryland families deserve better.”

Bill Harris, an alternate at-large Maryland delegate to the GOP convention from Cecil County, said Szeliga was “running for a seat that’s been labeled ‘Democrat’ for a long time, and she’s got to work.”

But he had less sympathy for others who stayed away, although he didn’t mention specific names.

“We’re seeing quite a few absences of elected officials,” Harris said. “And I think they’re going to pay for it.”

By Jessie Campisi
Capital News Service

Maryland GOP Senate Candidate backs Trump, but Skips Convention

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Gov. Larry Hogan isn’t the only high-profile Maryland Republican to take a rain check on the GOP’s national convention.

Instead of traveling to her party’s gathering where Donald Trump claimed the GOP’s presidential nomination Wednesday, Maryland House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga decided to remain in her own state to focus on her campaign against Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County for the open U.S. Senate seat.

“I am a little sorry I couldn’t be there,” said Szeliga, who represents Baltimore County in the Maryland House of Delegates. “But I should be here (in Maryland) meeting voters.”

Szeliga joined Hogan Tuesday in Annapolis at a roundtable discussion on helping veterans and picked up the governor’s formal endorsement.

“She’s a fighter, she’s tough,” said Hogan at an Annapolis news conference. “She can win this race, she should win this race and she’ll make a great United States Senator.” (From a Facebook video.)

Szeliga saidt she couldn’t justify the expenses for such a short trip.

“I couldn’t go back to my donors and ask for $2,000 for it,” she said. “So I made a choice.”

This choice, she said, would earn her points among Marylanders for being fiscally conservative, noting that she has significantly less campaign cash than Van Hollen.

The Democrat had raised slightly more than $8 million through the second quarter of 2016, compared with her $434,000, according to OpenSecrets.org, a campaign finance website.

Keeping their distance

Although a majority of Maryland Republicans – 54 percent – opted to support Trump in the state’s primary April 26, some of the state’s Republicans have kept their distance from the real estate mogul.

Hogan has said he has no plans to vote for Trump and has been critical of him. Szeliga, running in a state that traditionally votes Democratic in presidential elections, has said she will support her party’s nominee, but is concentrating on her own contest.

That doesn’t sit well with some Marylanders here.

Some delegates, who wished to remain anonymous to avoid antagonizing another party member, privately expressed discontent and disappointment with Szeliga’s and Hogan’s absences in Cleveland at a time when unity is a key goal of their party after a fractious primary season.

“Obviously, the hope of the convention is to establish a sense of unity,” Szeliga said. “I’m on ‘Team Kathy.’ I’m very focused on that, and the GOP is focused on ‘Team Trump’ this week.”

Since announcing her candidacy in November, Szeliga has said she would support “the presumptive nominee,” but has openly denounced some of Trump’s statements.

“I have been an independent thinker, and I stand by that,” she said. “I’ll continue to be that person who calls balls and strikes. Voters in Maryland expect (that).”

Van Hollen camp criticizes Trump connection

Representatives from Van Hollen’s campaign criticized Szeliga for any alignment she has with Trump.

“Delegate Szeliga can run from the Republican National Convention, but she cannot hide from the fact that she supports Donald Trump and what he stands for,” said Bridgett Frey, Van Hollen’s campaign spokeswoman. “(She) would only bring the same dysfunction and discord to the U.S. Senate, and Maryland families deserve better.”

Bill Harris, an alternate at-large Maryland delegate to the GOP convention from Cecil County, said Szeliga was “running for a seat that’s been labeled ‘Democrat’ for a long time, and she’s got to work.”

But he had less sympathy for others who stayed away, although he didn’t mention specific names.

“We’re seeing quite a few absences of elected officials,” Bill Harris said. “And I think they’re going to pay for it.”

Maryland Republicans Seek Party Unity, Face Resistance as Trump’s Nomination Nears

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As Donald Trump seems primed to accept the nomination as the GOP’s 2016 presidential candidate Wednesday at the Republican National Convention, party leaders are eying a problem: finding a way to coalesce the base around the controversial business mogul.

A July New York Times/CBS News Poll found that just over a third of Republicans are unsatisfied with Trump as their party’s nominee. Another Morning Consult Poll the same month found that 46 percent of party members said their party has “pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track.”

Efforts to present a party with one voice this week have been halting. For example, Paul Manafort, Trump’s top aide, said Monday morning that Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is not attending the convention, is “embarrassing his party in Ohio.”

And those problems reared their head Monday on the floor of the convention in Cleveland.

At one point, party opponents to Trump began shouting for a roll call vote. They aimed to force all 2,742 delegates to vote on a procedural motion that had to pass before the convention could get underway.

Making the vote a drawn out process instead of a foregone conclusion could have reflected negatively on Trump’s goals of unifying the party as prime time TV coverage of the convention began.

Eventually the roll call vote failed.

Jim Crawford, 68, a rules committee member from Bryantown, Maryland, said the rules roll call was an attempt to make a statement by disaffected Republicans.

But despite the disagreement, Crawford said, “we are still a unified party, we will still unite behind the candidate, we will still unite behind Mr. Trump.”

“There are others who are disappointed in the whole process who will still support him because the alternative, Hillary (Clinton), is so horrible,” Crawford added. “They dislike Mr. Trump, but they cannot stand Hillary.”

Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh said at the Maryland delegate breakfast Monday morning that Trump was not his first choice in the 2016 Republican primary.

However, as a party leader, Schuh said he must accept the GOP voters’ choice, as 60 percent of them voted for Trump in the state’s April 26 primary.

“Those of us who represent Maryland have to bear in mind that was the primary voters’ (decision),” Schuh said.

A short walk away from the convention center at Settler’s Landing Park, supporters of Trump held an “America First Unity Rally” with the goal of bringing together the different factions of the Republican Party.

Speakers included members of various minority and interest groups — such as Women United for Trump, Christians for Trump, Students for Trump and Bikers for Trump — that sought to diversify Trump’s base of support.

Keynote speakers included Diamond and Silk, a pair of African-American sisters who have catapulted to internet fame with their fiery support for the presumptive Republican nominee on YouTube.

A July NBC/WSJ poll found that African-Americans back Clinton over Trump by an 84 to 7 margin. But the high-energy duo said that the Democratic party does not have the best interests of black Americans in mind, and that they should no longer vote as a monolith.

Black voters “can get off that Democratic plantation,” Diamond said. “My African American brothers and sisters … you need to get your behind up and vote for someone like Donald Trump.”

Milo Yiannopoulos, an openly gay conservative reporter for Breitbart News, stood before the crowd of about 100 and proclaimed that Trump was the best candidate for LGBT people.

Yiannopoulos brought up the shooting at an Orlando gay club on June 12, which resulted in the death of 50 people, including the shooter, and injured another 53.

Supporting a candidate that understands protecting the county’s borders, he said, is something all Americans must do, no matter their sexuality or political ideology.

“You might be a churchgoing Republican, and I have nothing but respect for you,” Yiannopoulos said. “You might not be totally down with the gay lifestyle, but we’re your gays, not theirs.”

Diana Waterman, the state chairman for the Maryland GOP, said members of the Republican party must unite behind Trump, even if he was not their first or second choice.

Avoiding a Hillary Clinton presidency, she said, must be the rallying call for Republicans.

“Once we nominate (Trump),” Waterman said, “he is our nominee and he is going to be the next president, because, as I said, it can’t be Hillary.”

By JOSH MAGNESS and JULIE GALLAGHER

–CNS reporter Jessie Campisi contributed to this report

 

Dual Enrollment with High Schools and Community Colleges in Maryland Grow in Popularity

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In an effort to find greater academic challenges and tackle future student debt, more Maryland high school students are taking college classes for credit — for some, a full semester of courses — in addition to their regular high school schedules.

In some Maryland counties, more than a quarter of the senior class is enrolled in a college course, and in some jurisdictions, students are beginning four-year college with half their credits already completed.

“You have to be motivated. It takes discipline and hard work,” Hagerstown Community College Director of Public Information Elizabeth Kirkpatrick said.

Called Dual Enrollment, students take college level classes that go toward both high school and college credit and, depending on the county, the community college and school system will pay either a portion or all of a student’s tuition.

Overall, there are approximately 10,000 high school students involved in Dual Enrollment throughout Maryland. The number of high school students at community colleges in the state jumped by 20 percent in the fall 2014 semester compared to the previous year, according to Bernard Sadusky, executive director for the Maryland Association of Community Colleges.

Sadusky said that several factors account for the increase.

“First, the school systems and community colleges have been marketing the opportunity better to students and families. And then the success of the programs,” Sandusky said. “Parents are realizing that student debt has become a national discussion point and they are realizing that this is the most affordable thing you can get. Parents and students are fearful of being in debt.”

Approximately 5,453 high school seniors — 9 percent of the 12th-grade students in the state — were dually enrolled in a public high school and a Maryland postsecondary institution during the 2013-2014 academic year, according to a December 2015 report by the Maryland Longitudinal Data System Center. That was two percentage points more than during the 2012-2013 academic year, according to the report.

In the 2013-2014 academic school year, Washington County, which includes Hagerstown Community College, had the highest percentage of dually enrolled high school seniors of every Maryland jurisdiction, with 28 percent.

There are nine public high schools in Washington County and most of the students participate in Dual Enrollment through Hagerstown Community College.

Assistant Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Hagerstown Community College Kevin Crawford credited two different dual enrollment programs: Essence and Middle College.

Essence allows high school students to take Hagerstown Community College classes for half a day at their high school with professors from the college coming to teach.

Middle College allows students to take classes full-time at the community college for two years, receive an associate’s degree by the time they graduate high school and also earn their diplomas.

The Middle College program is currently only available to public school students in Washington, Prince George’s, Howard, and Baltimore counties, according to Maryland Association of Community Colleges Executive Director Bernard Sandusky.

A traditional Hagerstown Community College student would pay approximately $9,540 in tuition to take all of the classes needed for an Associate’s Degree, but dually enrolled students pay less. Washington County Public Students and Hagerstown Community College provide a 50 percent tuition discount for the first 12 credits that they take, saving them up to $1,300. In addition, some dually enrolled students at Hagerstown Community College earned STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) scholarships that range from $500 to $2,000 per semester, which affects how much more money each student ends up saving.

Overall, if a dually enrolled student at Hagerstown Community College receives only the initial discount from the school system, they would pay approximately $8,200 for two years of classes to get an Associate’s Degree, or $4,100 per academic year, according to Hagerstown Community College Middle College Coordinator Teresa Thorn.

For the 2015-2016 academic year, the nationwide average tuition for a four-year private nonprofit university was $28,746 and the nationwide average tuition for a four-year public university nationwide was $8,070, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics.

At the University of Maryland, College Park, a full-time in-state student paid approximately $4,076 in tuition per semester during the 2015-2016 academic year, and up to 60 credits earned through Dual Enrollment at any Maryland community college can transfer to the university.

But the credits that are able to transfer over also depend on the type of Dual Enrollment class taken and whether it would fulfill a requirement for the student’s major, according to the University of Maryland’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

“They know they can save some money,” Crawford said.

Nate Harrell, a 17-year-old senior at North Hagerstown High School in the Middle College program, said he plans to attend Liberty University in the fall to study engineering and explained that while certain financial advantages played a factor in participating in Dual Enrollment, he also felt that he could be challenged more academically by taking a college workload while in high school.

“I felt like a lot of my classes (in high school) were holding me back because they were so slow compared to what I could learn,” Harrell said.

Natalie McHale, a 17-year-old senior also from North Hagerstown High School who is in the Middle College and will attend Clemson in the fall to study engineering, said that compared to a high school that might have limited choices for Advanced Placement classes, the Middle College allowed her to take courses that she wanted to take.

“You can pick the classes you want to take,” McHale said, “If you’re interested in biology, you can take those.”

Even though Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment courses can both offer students college credit, the way to obtain that credit is noticeably different between the two programs.

“For the AP, you have to take the AP test and pass it. Personally, I didn’t pass mine so I couldn’t get any credit for college,” McHale said, “But going here, you automatically get the credit. It’s a lot more work for a college class, but at least you get the credit.”

Several administrative officials for Washington County Public Schools said that their schools have had a strong relationship with Hagerstown Community College.

Rachel Kurtz, a guidance counselor for Clear Spring High School in Clear Spring, said that the school has had a total of 35 students involved in dual enrollment courses this past year.

Jeff Stouffer, principal of Washington County Technical School in Hagerstown, said 31 students at his school are getting dual credit for a college algebra class.

National studies have also been conducted to show the differences between students involved in Dual Enrollment in high school and their future chances of academic success in college.

In one nationally representative sample of students who began postsecondary education in 2003, students who took Dual Enrollment courses ended up being 10 percent more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than their counterparts, according to a 2013 study by the University of Iowa.

In addition, about 82 percent of U.S. public high schools reported that some students were enrolled in a dual credit course in the 2010-2011 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Hazel Ware, a 16-year-old senior at Charles Flowers High School in Springdale, is also about to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree through Dual Enrollment at Prince George’s County Community College.

Ware took college-level classes for subjects such as Spanish, music and statistics. She was recently accepted into the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Pittsburgh, and has been waiting to hear back from several other universities including Stanford, Duke and the University of Chicago.

Even though she will have the opportunity to save money by graduating high school and college at a quicker rate, Ware also said the impetus to take college credit classes early was to challenge herself academically.

“For me, it’s more of wanting to get a head-start,” Ware said, “I’m thinking of attending a private school so the courses may not necessarily transfer over and that’s fine. I just wanted to gain the experience that I need in order to do well in college.”

In Maryland, public institutions of higher education are permitted to accept students who have completed at least seventh grade and if they have obtained a certain score on a nationally accepted college entrance exam, such as the SAT or ACT, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.

State Sen. James Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s, sponsored a bill this past legislative session that would award high school and college credit to middle school students for taking college classes through Dual Enrollment. Rosapepe said that the state and individual counties wouldn’t have to pay anything for the bill and that counties would continue paying the same amount of money that they are paying now for Dual Enrollment programs. The bill successfully passed unanimously in both the Maryland Senate and Maryland House of Delegates during the 2016 General Assembly session.

However, there is some concern that some students are not ready to take Dual Enrollment courses over the traditional Advanced Placement classes available in high schools.

University of Maryland, College Park Director of Undergraduate Admissions Shannon Gundy said she wants to make sure students are doing Dual Enrollment for the right reasons and that only the appropriate students are taking the courses.

“If we are talking about students that really are gifted and really are academically talented that can move at an advanced pace and are ready to take college level courses and prepare to do well in them, that’s one thing,” Gundy said. “When we have students that are really just trying to eat up college credits like Pac-Man, and they may not be prepared and may not have exhausted the opportunities that were available for them within their high school, then that does give me some pause.”

Gundy also said that it’s difficult to understand the motive for a student to take community college courses if their high school already offers a challenging curriculum where they earn college credit. She said that the purpose and advantage in going to high school and using the high school’s resources is to build a solid academic foundation.

“It also allows students time to grow and mature, to develop the skills that they’re going to need in order to be successful in a college classroom and there’s a disadvantage to rushing that,” Gundy said.

Connor Norton, an 18-year-old senior at North Hagerstown High School in the Middle College program who will attend McDaniel College in the fall, disagreed and said that he thought it was a good thing getting several college credits out of the way early.

“We’re saving a bunch of money and that’s a big factor to most people,” Norton said.

In Prince George’s County, the school system has paid an increasing amount of money for the Dual Enrollment program in recent years. When Dual Enrollment began in the county, in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the school system spent $20,332. That number increased to $69,092 in 2013-2014, and to $299,048 in 2014-2015.

During this current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, the county school system spent approximately $487,299 on Dual Enrollment, according to information provided by Maryland’s Office of Budget and Management Services.

The growing cost is linked to the number of students participating in the Dual Enrollment program through Prince George’s County Public Schools. In the 2014 school year, 29 students in the county participated in Dual Enrollment in the fall 2013 semester and 35 in the spring 2014 semester. Those totals jumped to 139 students in summer 2014, 252 in fall 2014, 289 in spring 2015, and 274 students for the past fall 2015 semester, according to information provided by Prince George’s County Public Schools as a result of a Public Information Act request.

Ware said that with the college credits she amassed through Dual Enrollment in Prince George’s County, she has saved $6,520 and expects to save more in the future, by having to take fewer courses to get her degree at a four-year university.

“Thanks to the implementation of the Dual Enrollment program, I will graduate college early and most importantly, save a tremendous amount of money,” Ware said.

Laura Palmer and Claire Galvin, both high school juniors enrolled in Hagerstown Community College’s Middle College, said that a student needs to have dedication and a good work ethic in their classes in order to get the college credit. Galvin added that the Middle College allows the students to build their own academic foundation by giving them the experience on how to handle a college workload and that even if she has to retake a class later at a four-year school, she would already have knowledge to build from.

“I’m not sure if I’m going to go on with engineering, I may change, but I feel like everything I’ve taken here is going to help me later, even if it doesn’t count for transferring,” Galvin said.

“It’s really a cheap way to find yourself, instead of going to a four-year and spending thousands and thousands,” Norton said.

By Connor Glowacki

 

Maryland’s Vacant Mental Health Hospital Problem

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Six miles outside of Annapolis lie the decaying bones of a dinosaur.

They don’t belong to a prehistoric animal, but to Crownsville Hospital Center, a mostly vacant former asylum that costs the State of Maryland around a million dollars a year.

Many of the methods used to treat mental illness when Crownsville opened in 1911 have essentially gone extinct.

The availability and quality of medications have increased, and providers are trending toward treatment through community-based services, like psychiatric rehabilitation, housing and vocational programs, according to Jeff Richards, the incoming president of the Mental Health Association of Maryland and the CEO of Mosaic Community Services.

“There’s so many people that probably 20, 30, 40 years ago would have lived out their lives in one of those large institutions (who) are living in the community and doing great with the right range of support available to them,” Richardson said.

This means that large facilities, like Crownsville, became obsolete. No longer did the state need to run a 500-acre facility that could house 4,000-5,000 patients. These people could receive treatments in their communities while the stately brick buildings rusted and aged.

Since the hospital officially closed in 2004, Crownsville has cost the state of Maryland more than $13 million. Security guards roam the campus, a mix of lawn and trees, presiding over crumbling walls, broken windows and dark buildings.

Van Mitchell, Maryland secretary of health and mental hygiene, has made getting these empty facilities off his books a priority since he was appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan in 2015.

His department owns around 5 million square feet of real estate, and more than 53 percent of that is vacant.

“If we were in the real estate business, we’d be out of business,” he likes to say.

Among the five non-operational hospitals the state owns — Crownsville, RICA Southern Maryland, Rosewood, Upper Shore and Brandenburg — the department of health and mental hygiene has spent more than $27 million since the facilities have closed.

Some of the properties bring small revenues in from rent. The state leases the Upper Shore Community Health Center to Kent County for $1 per year.

Kent County then pays the utilities and operating costs — $378,000 in 2015 — for mental health programs and substance abuse treatment.

Because Kent County is so small, it’s not an attractive location for private rehabilitation companies, according to Andrew Pons, the program director for the A. F. Whitsitt Center, which is located at the Upper Shore Community Health Center.

“We’re the only option people have,” Pons said.

In Crownsville, 10 nonprofits lease the space for $1 per year each, including the Anne Arundel County Food Pantry.

Budget analysts are quick to note that $27 million, which works out to around $3 million per year, won’t break the budget. It’s not a massive sum of money within the context of a $42 billion annual operating budget for the state.

Still, it’s money that isn’t being spent on much of anything.

Most of the annual operating expenses go to keeping up the grounds: fixing broken windows, mowing the lawns and providing security against errant high school kids or copper-pipe thieves.

To put it in perspective, Hogan added $4 million to the state’s budget to fund a task force to study and combat the state’s heroin and opioid epidemic.

Regardless of how much it is, Mitchell said, any money spent on empty hospitals is wasted resources.

“That’s a cost to the department that should be going back into the community for services,” Mitchell said.

He’d like to see that money go to more beds to treat opioid addiction, or to the construction of a new hospital.

Part of the problem is that these facilities are what he calls “siloed.”

They are chronic hospitals that were mostly good for one thing — treating mental illness — and aren’t flexible enough to treat other types of disease.

Moreover, the hospitals are old — Rosewood opened in 1888 — and full of asbestos.

Removing asbestos from buildings as old and large as the ones found in Crownsville and Rosewood could cost between $4 million and $8 million, according to Derrick Harris, an Environmental Project Manager with Access Demolition Contracting in Brooklyn, Maryland.

Another $700,000 was allocated in the 2016 Capital Budget to get Rosewood in a condition to be purchased by Stevenson University, formerly Villa Julie College, in Baltimore County.

“Stevenson University has been apprehensive to acquire the property due to concerns about abatement,” the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee wrote.

A spokesman for Stevenson said he couldn’t comment until a Memorandum of Understanding was finalized between the school and the state, but that the university is still interested.

There’s also the problem of priorities. Mitchell knows his department isn’t the only one vying for capital funding, the money that would be spent to build a new hospital or fix the old ones.

“We can’t compete with school construction,” Mitchell said.

By Rachel Bluth