Something truly important happened yesterday in the Maryland General Assembly, bringing our State a step closer to improving access to care for vulnerable youth experiencing homelessness. In the final days of Maryland’s 430th Legislative Session, a bill to remove legal barriers currently preventing vulnerable youth from accessing basic medical and dental care passed the House of Delegates by a vote of 135 to 0. Before crossing over to the House, Senate Bill 72 already had passed the Senate by another unanimous vote of 47 to 0.
For more than 20 years, Health Care for the Homeless has provided health-related services to homeless children and families – often on an outreach basis. In 2011, we opened The CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield Pediatric & Adolescent Clinic. Under current law, however, licensed practitioners at HCH cannot provide routine medical care (e.g., treat the flu, a sprained ankle, asthma, or other acute & chronic health conditions) or dental care (e.g., provide a routine cleaning or fill a cavity) without parental consent. Unfortunately, HCH often is unable to obtain such consent for many homeless youth living alone with no regular contact with family members. In some situations, youth have no knowledge of their parents’ whereabouts; in others, youth are afraid to re-establish contact with abusive families.
Senate Bill 72 would fix this problem – allowing us to provide needed medical and dental care to homeless youth living in extremely unstable situations. It would also extend liability protection related to the inability to obtain parental consent for those licensed health care practitioners who often are responsible for providing care to homeless youth.
The bill, introduced by Senator Delores Kelley (along with a companion bill in the House of Delegates introduced by Delegate Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg), quickly garnered overwhelming bipartisan support – unanimously passing the Senate Finance Committee and the full Senate earlier this session. Thanks to the support of partners in the community and in the legislature, Senate Bill 72 “crossed over” and passed the Health and Government Operations Committee of the House of Delegates without a single dissenting vote.
Yesterday afternoon, April 5, the full House followed the Senate by unanimously passing the measure and sending it to Governor Martin O’Malley for signature.
This important success in the waning days of Session resulted from a broad team effort.
- Lisa Stambolis, HCH’s Director of Pediatrics, testified at several hearings and (along with her team and their community partners) identified several youth who powerfully shared their stories about barriers to care.
- Pam Kasemeyer and Robyn Elliott, who represent a diverse range of organizations in Annapolis, were invaluable in their advocacy, support and council.
- Senator Kelley and Delegate Rosenberg introduced and championed the bill.
- Delegate Dan Morhaim, always a strong supporter of HCH, masterfully shepherded the bill through the House – with the backing of Chairman Pete Hammen and other members of the Health and Government Operations Committee, including and especially Delegate Nicholaus Kipke.
- All the various pieces and players were held together by HCH’s Policy Director, Barbara DiPietro and Community Relations Coordinator Adam Schneider.
When you have the opportunity, please congratulate these partners – and thank them for their hard work and support. And please join us in asking for Governor O’Malley’s signature on this important legislation for homeless youth.