BALTIMORE – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin recently hosted conversations with Congressman David Trone (MD-06) and public health and economic development leaders from Garrett, Allegany, Washington and Frederick counties on local impacts from and response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cardin and participants discussed a range of concerns and potential ways the federal government can usher additional resources to help Maryland confront COVID-19 and fully re-open.
“Western Maryland’s leaders underscored the need to ensure that healthcare and other frontline workers have the protective gear, testing capacity and other equipment necessary to do their jobs effectively and safely. They also detailed challenges being felt in rural health systems that have suffered revenue disruptions and staff losses because of social distancing requirements and the postponement of elective procedures,” said Senator Cardin. “We also heard serious concerns stemming from the lack of access to mental and behavioral health care and related services, and the need to maintain our focus on ensuring that the most vulnerable among us have the help that they need.”
“Behavioral health issues may be exacerbated, revealed or instigated due to COVID-19 stress and trauma. Loss and the associated grief are known high-stress life events. Isolation is a trigger for addiction relapse and mental health disorders. Fatal and non-fatal overdoses have spiked recently after a period of decline,” said Barbara Brookmyer, Frederick County Health Officer. “The Behavioral Health recovery phase for Frederick County will require a strong provider system and continuum of care. An increase in demand for services is anticipated. Losing any service providers will be an enormous setback and will stress the entire system, including the courts, law enforcement and social services. Parity in financial relief with the COVID-19 physical health care system financial support will be critical and must address the entire continuum of the system of care for behavioral health services.”
“We also discussed a number of concerns related to infrastructure, with the lack of residential broadband in many communities foremost among them,” said Senator Cardin. “It’s extremely difficult to telework or homeschool students – much less do both at the same time – without broadband internet access. We have worked for years to ensure that our major institutions are served by broadband, and we must continue finding ways to extend affordable broadband to residential customers as well.”
“It will take public/private partnerships to open up areas not currently served. It’s important to recognize that fiber is a necessity for survival in today’s world – just like water, sewer, and roads,” said James Kercheval, Executive Director of the Greater Hagerstown Committee. “We not only need to create a system that reaches everyone, but also allows for competition in the private market – competition has shown to improve the quality of service and lower costs to consumers. If we provide the service to rural areas, but the cost of sufficient broadband is unaffordable, then we have failed in our mission.”
“Both our health care systems and our economy in Western Maryland have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s crucial that we maintain an open dialogue with local leaders in order to understand the state of the crisis on the ground,” said Congressman Trone. “I will continue to work with Senator Cardin and our federal, state, and local partners to make sure that Western Maryland is not left behind when it comes to resources and funding to help weather this crisis.”