Maryland got a ton of new providers of mental health and addiction services in recent years, and state health officials are not so sure they are all on the up-and-up.

The Maryland Department of Health said Friday it would not approve any new licenses for some types of providers for the next six months as they assess what is happening.

“Access to quality behavioral health services for Marylanders is my top priority,” said Alyssa Lord, deputy secretary for behavioral health, in a statement. “This pause in new provider applications will allow the department to assess and evaluate the provider landscape, the quality of care rendered, compliance with state and federal regulations, and identify, and mitigate potential fraud, waste, and abuse.”

The news was welcomed by Shannon Hall, executive director of the Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland, which represents providers.

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The group has been following the proliferation of licensed providers since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. There didn’t seem to be many safeguards maintained under the previous administration of Gov. Larry Hogan, she said. As needs skyrocketed, there was a push for more providers to offer services, she said, but not many more people actually received services, despite all those new clinics.

The group’s analysis found there were just over 269,000 mental health patients in fiscal 2024, up just over 20% from four years ago. But licensees rose to more than 3,100 in the same time, up about 67%

That meant the average patients per licensee dropped from 117.9 to 84.5.

The same thing happened with substance use providers, with the average number of patients per licensee dropping from 63 to 18.6.

The state pays for a lot of the mental health and addiction services through its Medicaid program, which covers low-income residents.

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“They really put the pedal to the metal after the pandemic, and the number of licensees really exploded,” Hall said. “We know more people need services, but we see there was only like 10% growth in the number of patients served, so we’re not reaching a lot more people. We are cannibalizing from existing providers.”

Hall said it’s hard to tell if there are “bad actors,” or providers not offering quality services to patients, or how many of them. She hopes the administration of Gov. Wes Moore will not just freeze new licenses, but reevaluate the parameters for the industry, and investigate, strip licenses and even prosecute providers when appropriate.

The Maryland Department of Health did not immediately specify what steps it plans to take in the process.