Search over for new state health deputy

Job filled af­ter con­tro­ver­sial post­ing tout­ing high salary

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Mered­ith Cohn

The Mary­land De­part­ment of Health has filled a cru­cial lead­er­ship job af­ter an ad­ver­tise­ment for the post drew con­tro­versy for of­fer­ing an un­usu­ally high salary for such a po­si­tion.

Dr. Alyia Jones will be­come a deputy sec­re­tary and head of the state’s Be­hav­ioral Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which over­sees state men­tal hos­pi­tals and com­mu­nity pro­grams for sub­stance use, among other ser­vices.

Jones is a psy­chi­a­trist and pre­vi­ously worked at Bon Se­cours Hos­pi­tal in Bal­ti­more, where she served for seven years as chief of psy­chi­a­try and chair of be­hav­ioral health.

A post in the fall of­fered pay that could reach nearly $465,000 — more than three times the last deputy’s salary and far ex­ceed­ing the pay for all other state agency ad­min­is­tra­tors. Jones will earn $375,000, the Health De­part­ment re­ported.

Health Sec­re­tary Robert Neall said last week he wanted a psy­chi­a­trist to fill the role, which has be­come vi­tal as de­mand for be­hav­ioral health ser­vices and opi­oid-re­lated over­dose deaths have sky­rock­eted.

“We face a num­ber of chal­lenges in be­hav­ioral health, in­clud­ing the on­go­ing opi­oid cri­sis,” Neall said in a state­ment. “Manag­ing the vast ar­ray of clin­i­cal and ther­a­peu­tic treat­ments ser­vices, public aware­ness and pre­ven­tion pro­grams and other re­lated ef­forts is no easy feat. To have found some­one who un­der­stands Mary­land’s unique chal­lenges is in­valu­able.”

At Bon Se­cours, Jones led 22 ser­vice pro­grams, in­clud­ing the na­tion’s first court­in­volved di­ver­sion pro­gram, the health de­part­ment said. She also served on Bal­ti­more’s Heroin and Pre­ven­tion Task Force, the Mary­land Hos­pi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion’s Be­hav­ioral Health Task Force and Mary­land’s Foren­sic Ad­vi­sory Work­group. She earned a mas­ter’s in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion from the Univer­sity of Mary­land and a med­i­cal de­gree from the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia.

The pro­posed salary for the po­si­tion had raised eye­brows among state law­mak­ers and some in the be­hav­ioral health arena, who said such a state po­si­tion is rarely filled by a psy­chi­a­trist. There is no re­quire­ment the job be filled by a med­i­cal doc­tor.

Psy­chi­a­trists have been in short sup­ply and na­tional as­so­ci­a­tions say the prob­lem is likely to in­ten­sify in com­ing years as more peo­ple re­port some kind of men­tal health con­di­tion. A state agency al­ready re­ported that the Health De­part­ment had been boost­ing psy­chi­a­trist pay, par­tic­u­larly at ru­ral state-run hos­pi­tals, be­yond $200,000, to keep doc­tors in their po­si­tions.

The po­si­tion had been empty since April, when Bar­bara Bazron left for a sim­i­lar job in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. She held a doc­tor­ate in phi­los­o­phy and worked as a fam­ily ther­a­pist and earned $154,000 last year, ac­cord­ing to a data­base main­tained by The Bal­ti­more Sun.

Neall con­tends a doc­tor will help an agency bet­ter in­te­grate ser­vices for men­tal health and sub­stance use disor­ders. And it will help oper­a­tions at the agency, which has faced le­gal chal­lenges that in­cluded an or­der to re­duce de­lays in pro­vid­ing psy­chi­atric beds for men­tally ill crim­i­nal de­fen­dants.

“As a psy­chi­a­trist, it will be per­son­ally re­ward­ing to make a dif­fer­ence in the public be­hav­ioral health care de­liv­ery sys­tem, an in­sti­tu­tion that has such great in­flu­ence over the way be­hav­ioral health care ser­vices are de­liv­ered in this state,” said Jones in a state­ment. “I am thank­ful to Sec­re­tary Neall for his for­ward think­ing and for call­ing for a physi­cian to lead this ad­min­is­tra­tion.”


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