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January 27, 2022

Maryland to use $7.3M from American Rescue Plan for mental health programs for health care workers

Credit: Baltimore Fishbowl, Marcus Dieterle

More than $7 million in American Rescue Plan funding will be used for mental health programs for health care workers in Maryland, members of the state’s congressional delegation announced on Thursday.

Maryland’s federal lawmakers announced that about $7.3 million in American Rescue Plan funding would be awarded to institutions in the state, including more than $2.7 million to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, nearly $2.3 million to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Inc. in Bethesda, and about $2.3 million to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine in Bethesda.

The Health Resources and Services Administration will distribute the money to the respective institutions over a three-year period.

The money “will support initiatives aimed at establishing a culture of wellness among the health care workforce, reducing burnout, and building resiliency for those at the beginning of their health careers, with particular consideration for the needs of rural and medically underserved communities,” federal officials said in a news release.

The announcement was delivered by U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, and U.S. Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Anthony G. Brown, Jamie Raskin, and David Trone, all Maryland Democrats. Maryland’s lone Republican representative in Congress, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, was not part of the announcement.

In a joint statement, Maryland’s Democratic federal lawmakers said health care workers have faced challenges to their physical and mental health during the pandemic, all while working to ensure the health and safety of Marylanders.

“From the start, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on our health care workers, leading to burnout and mental fatigue as they work on the front lines protecting Marylanders,” said in a joint statement. “Yet, our health care professionals persevere to save lives and administer vaccinations in the face of a continually evolving virus.”

The funding will help provide health professionals with much-needed mental health resources, the lawmakers said.

“This American Rescue Plan funding will provide our health care heroes with critical resources to support their mental health and resiliency as they continue serving on the front lines of Maryland’s response and recovery efforts,” they said. “We were proud to fight for the American Rescue Plan’s investments in needed relief for our communities, and will continue working to provide our health care workforce with the tools they need to combat this pandemic.”

Despite being saluted as “heroes,” health care workers continue to face overwhelming workloads, low wages, harassment from members of the public, their own COVID-19 illnesses, and other stresses related to the pandemic. Many are leaving the field altogether.

Maryland state lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban threats against public health officials and hospital workers. Under the bill, people charged with making such threats could face up to 90 days in prison or a fine of up to $500, Maryland Matters reported.

There are a total of 2,103 Marylanders hospitalized with confirmed cases of coronavirus, as of Thursday morning.

After the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations peaked at an all-time high of 3,462 on Jan. 11, they have been declining over the past two weeks but remain higher than Maryland’s previous peak from before the omicron surge.

Last year, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, which will provide at least $7.2 billion of relief funding for Maryland families, workers and communities as they navigate the “twin challenges” of health and economic harms exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the lawmakers’ news release.

The American Rescue Plan also included $6.2 billion to help state and local governments fund emergency services, distribute vaccines, employ frontline workers, and address other needs of a health care system exhausted by COVID-19 cases.