Following the Columbia mall shootings, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman pledged to increase the focus on mental health services in the community, and this week he attended a roundtable discussion to start the conversation.
At Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, Ulman on Wednesday joined elected officials, mental health professionals, nonprofit leaders and service providers to sign an executive order creating the county's Behavioral Health Action Plan Task Force.
The group will identify gaps in the county's mental health services and develop a plan for addressing them, according to Ulman.
The task force will consist of 31 members from various cross-sections of Howard County, from individuals who are mentally ill or have a mentally ill family member to county department heads to law enforcement to hospital personnel.
The first meeting of the task force will be Aug. 1, with the group to submit its findings by Jan. 1, 2015.
"While we have made great strides in our response training and understanding of mental health challenges, we know there is more to be done," Ulman said in a statement. “...we need more investment, and there are service gaps.”
Specifically, participants in the roundtable mentioned the need for more inpatient treatment options, the increasing demand for mental health services among elementary school students and the high cost of care for the middle-class, according to a statement from Howard County government.
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After the Jan. 25 triple fatal shootings at The Mall in Columbia, Ulman said he would commit more resources to mental health in the county.
At a press conference about the investigation into the double murder and suicide that occurred, Police Chief William McMahon said the shooter had been referred to a psychiatrist but never went and had conducted online searches for suicide hotlines.
The county's budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, includes $545,000 for adding mental health services within the Howard County Mental Health Authority.