University of Maryland Medical Center emergency room. Photo via the University of Maryland Medical Center.

The Maryland Department of Health last week issued $17.7 million in grant funding to local behavioral health authorities throughout the state to increase access to walk-in and urgent care services, the department announced Friday.

The funding will help reduce strain on hospital systems and make sure individuals are treated with appropriate care, MDH Secretary Dennis R. Schrader said in a statement.

The number of young people visiting the emergency room for mental health needs has increased nationally, according to the CDC, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue.

In February 2021, 39.1 percent of adults in Maryland reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. While rates of anxiety and depression have gone down in the past year, they remain high compared to pre-COVID levels.

In response, the health department will provide $15.4 million to broaden mobile crisis services and allocate $2.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to expand peer recovery support. 

“A cohesive crisis system is vital to help young people and adults at significantly vulnerable junctures in their lives,” said Dr. Aliya Jones, Deputy Secretary of the health department’s Behavioral Health Administration, in a statement, “We are expanding opportunities to ensure people are connected with immediate, appropriate and sustained care.”