Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen gave the official welcome at the Solutions Summit Behavioral Health Forum at the War Memorial Building on October 1, laying out three strategies for improving behavioral health in Baltimore:
- Save lives using Naloxone and other interventions
- Change the language around addiction
- Go beyond the stories and challenge our leaders to come up with policy and funding
From there, the 100 or so community members and advocates in attendance plunged into robust discussions about strategy, thanks to months of advance planning. Scott Nolen, director of OSI-Baltimore’s Drug Addiction Treatment program and co-chair of the Solutions Summit Behavioral Health planning group, said the half-day forum succeeded largely because OSI had been working since March with community health providers and others on the same issues.
The planning group, including 12 leading advocates, academics, and community members with lived experience, had brainstormed for six months and detailed 29 potential solutions for affecting change. The goal of the half-day forum was to narrow that list down to 10 priorities.
People were really committed and fully engaged with the issues,” Nolen said. “There was a lot of passion coming through. The tough thing was that everyone said all of these were good ideas, so our biggest job was really how do we figure out how to prioritize?”
The forum’s attendees attacked the problem by working in small groups and discussing potential solutions to improve the behavioral health system in four categories: Care Coordination and Integration, Stigma Reduction, Provider Capacity and Consumer Access, and Housing and Recovery Support Services.
Mixed in with the discussions were presentations from artists whose work touches on behavioral health issues, including visual artists Phylicia Ghee, Nether, and Carolyn Ann Watts, and spoken word artist Kondwani Fidel, who received a standing ovation after performing “Memory,” a piece about growing up in a household deeply affected by addiction.
After several rounds of discussion and debate, attendees used mobile phones to vote on the 10 solutions that they most wanted to see the new mayor and City Council act on (because of a tie, they ended up with 11 solutions). Those 11 solutions were presented at the Solutions Summit on December 10, along with the solutions voted on at the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Forum and the Jobs Forum. (To see the list of 11 solutions, the Behavioral Health white paper, and a list of planning group members, go to solutionssummitbaltimore.org.)
“One of the best parts of the forum was that it was attended by many people who we don’t always see or hear from,” Nolen said. “There were students there from schools of social work; there was a director from Planned Parenthood. People we normally wouldn’t sit around the table with. I thought that was really great, in terms of broadening our reach and getting some more perspectives at the table.”