- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

BALTIMORE (AP) - Facing a bed shortage that has forced patients to be turned away from state mental hospitals, Maryland’s top health official told a judge he regrets not asking for more money in this year’s state budget to address the problem.

Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Van T. Mitchell told a Baltimore judge Tuesday that he “made a mistake” in not addressing the bed problem in time for this year’s General Assembly session, which ended in April, The Baltimore Sun reported (http://bsun.md/2asT75p).

Recent months have brought a growing backlog of admissions to state mental facilities.

Mitchell had been called before Judge Gale Rasin, chief of the city’s Mental Health Court, to explain why he and five other top department officials should not be held in civil contempt for failing to carry out court orders to admit criminal defendants in a timely manner.

Mitchell said he learned about the extent of the shortage early this year and wrote a letter in April to leaders of the judicial branch saying the department was in “crisis.” That letter showed he recognized his legal department’s responsibility to promptly obey orders, he said.

“That’s why I wrote the letter, and that’s why I’ll get it fixed,” he told Rasin, a retired circuit judge.

Tuesday was the third time Mitchell has been compelled to appear in court over the issue.

This time the hearing was part of a civil contempt case involving four defendants in city cases, some of whom had languished in jail for weeks after Rasin ordered their immediate admission to state mental health facilities.

Hogan’s office defended the health secretary.

“Secretary Mitchell has identified this issue as a crisis and has vowed to make improvements, in stark contrast to others in Annapolis who, over the past decade or more, have papered over the issue or just swept it under the rug,” said Matthew A. Clark, the governor’s spokesman.

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Information from: The Baltimore Sun, http://www.baltimoresun.com

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