CAMBRIDGE — Wes Moore, a Democrat running for governor, came to listen to stories of trauma and how to respond to this intergenerational problem. There were about 20 mental health practitioners, state level politicians and nonprofit members seated around a long table at the new Dorchester County Department of Social Services office on Wednesday, Nov. 17. Everyone got to share their point of view on this issue that can encompass race, socioeconomic status and the problem of substance abuse disorder.
Person after person noted there seem to be more people that need help than there are resources.
The group was appreciative to have someone listen to their issues. Moore made eye contact with people while listening to their stories and took notes in a black notebook. Moore said he first experienced handcuffs at age 11 and lived with a single mom trying to make ends meet with three jobs. He managed to escape the trauma trap by being sent to Valley Forge Military Academy, but he has felt it since.
He said he wants to make Maryland a national leader in trauma-informed care.
Trauma can present itself in many ways. It could be substandard housing with mold in the walls or dirt floors. It could be a baby born into addiction, which makes it multigenerational. It could be working three jobs and not getting ahead. It could be living with the constant whine of ambulances and gunshots nearby. All of it leads to traumatized people who need help to get their feet back on the ground.
The final topics discussed included how to support all of these caregivers and how to keep them grounded and capable of giving the best care possible. The people around the table agreed with this concern.
“We are talking about something that is touching every aspect of our society, but we are not treating it as such. We are not funding it as such and we are not acknowledging it as such,” Moore said. “Trauma is a collection of experiences that help determine what your future is. These are things that strike at our everyday resiliency. Trauma is very similar to a larger weight that will sit on your shoulders that can alter your trajectory or slow you up from getting where you need to be. Part of our responsibility as a society is to lift that trauma off to allow people to go in a way that their life intended.”
Moore believes the tool of law enforcement is not solving the problem. Moore argues that these root level social service providers need more funding and more people in their ranks.
“I am leaving here with a clear mandate that more needs to be done and more will be done,” Moore said at the end of the discussion. “There are certain things that I have written down here that I am not going to forget. It makes me remember how much we need you. There are no backups. The ask I have in all this is please take care of yourselves,” he said.
This message of helping the workers in the social services pipeline resonated with this understaffed and overstressed crowd.
“This work is hard,” Moore said. “This work is increasing. You need reinforcements. You need more capital.”
In attendance was Zeke Cohen, a Baltimore City Council member.
“I went to Cambridge to learn about the layers of trauma facing the Eastern Shore. The part that broke my heart was when a woman said, ‘I knew that to be successful, I’d have to leave home.’ I’ve heard this sentiment for young people in Baltimore,” Cohen said.
Omeaka Jackson of Mid Shore Behavioral Health is forensic case specialist. She was a principal organizer of the event. She works in Caroline County and wants to know how to get more education and resources to better serve her clients suffering from trauma.
Alisha Saulsbury is a social worker with more than 22 years in trauma recovery and addiction and mental health.
“What I learned in 22 years is that trauma shows up. This position opened up to be a forensic mental health program manager for the five-county region. This hopefully allows me to be able to do more jail diversion and treatment and treating trauma,” Saulsbury said.
“We strive to be a continuum of care for the five Mid-Shore counties,” Katie Dilley, executive director of Mid Shore Behavioral Health, said. “This allows us to work with the population that is homeless. Trauma is all over this community that we are responsible for supporting, spanning their entire lifetime. My team and I feel passionate about getting ahead of it and getting upstream. We have a lot of gaps that we are trying to fill and we are working tirelessly with the Behavioral Health Administration to find available funding to make this happen. Dorchester County has become a priority population because there is such a lack of providers and the population that is entitled to services aren’t accessing them. The Eastern Shore is very good at rolling up its sleeves and doing a lot with very little, but we are ready to have a little more.”
That brought cheers around the table.