The facility at Doctors Community Medical Center in Lanham will be one step toward addressing a long-standing disparity in access to mental and behavioral health care in the county, Alsobrooks said at a news conference.
“We are asking in many instances police to do work they are not equipped or trained to do,” Alsobrooks said. “We are going to treat people with the dignity they deserve, in facilities where they can actually be healed.”
Prince George’s, a Washington suburb of 909,000, has just two acute inpatient psychiatry units and far fewer mental health providers, per capita, than its neighbors, according to a recent community-needs assessment prepared by the county government. The majority-Black suburb also has fewer physicians and hospital beds per capita, according to state data.
More than half of Prince Georgians who needed to be hospitalized for psychiatric care in 2019 had to leave the county to do so, officials said Monday. County Health Officer Ernest L. Carter said construction of the new facility at Doctors marks the beginning of an era in which more residents “can get help here in Prince George’s County.”
“This is a big first step in creating a robust network of care,” Carter said. “We need to make it easier for every Prince Georgian to get health care where they live.”
The first floor of the mental health facility in Lanham would be mostly for outpatient services, including a treatment program for substance-use disorder and a behavioral health clinic. The second floor would house a 16-bed inpatient psychiatric unit.
Earlier this month, Luminis Health, the parent company for Doctors, submitted a certificate-of-need application for the second-floor unit to the Maryland Health Care Commission, which must approve requests to add new inpatient beds.
That application is pending, and the process can in some cases take years, as was the case with a new regional hospital in Largo that is set to open in June. Alsobrooks urged the state commission to approve the certificate of need, calling it “an urgent matter.”
“There have been structural health disparities in Prince George’s County for the last few decades, and they ought to be addressed right now,” she said, adding that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has made clear the health-care needs and the relative lack of health-care infrastructure in the county.
The first floor of the facility is scheduled to open around December.
Alsobrooks said diverting funding from the police training facility to construction of the behavioral health facility reflected the community’s priorities. The Prince George’s County Council approved the reallocation.
There is still a public-safety facility being built, including an academy for training firefighters, said Alsobrooks spokeswoman Gina Ford. But the diversion of funds means that it will not include a building for training police. For now, police will continue to do their training at headquarters.
As the county’s top prosecutor from 2010 until 2018, Alsobrooks said she learned that 70 percent of people arrested in Prince George’s were intoxicated and about 33 percent of jail inmates take medication for mental health conditions.
Deneen Richmond, president at Doctors, said there has been “an incredible rise in the need for mental health services” since the pandemic began, with many people unable to get the care they need.
County Council member Dannielle M. Glaros (D-District 3), whose district includes the hospital and who has focused on addressing health-care disparities, said she struggled for weeks to find an appointment with a local behavioral health counselor for her daughter when the girl needed help during the pandemic.
“Now she has a regular counselor, but not everyone can access that,” Glaros said. “Having the urgent care and the outpatient facility here for both kids and adults . . . will really ensure that people know they can get help.”
She and Richmond were among those who joined Alsobrooks for the ceremonial groundbreaking, donning hard hats and shoveling dirt to mark the beginning of construction.
Leaders at Luminis said the new facility will create about 100 new jobs, including for psychiatrists and behavioral health nurses and therapists.