Breen introduces bill to review, improve mental health services in Maine
AUGUSTA — Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, introduced a bill that would form a working group to study and recommend improvements for mental health services in Maine. LD 1602, “Resolve, Establishing the Working Group on Mental Health,” was the subject of a public hearing before a joint meeting of four Legislative policy committees: Judiciary; Health and Human Services; Education and Cultural Affairs; and Criminal Justice and Public Safety.
“As the parent of a young adult who has a serious and persistent mental illness, I have experienced the dysfunction of our mental health system in very real ways over the past 15 years,” said Sen. Breen, who serves as chair of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. “When Maine and other states closed our dysfunctional and dehumanizing psychiatric institutions decades ago, we did so on the promise that people living with mental illness would get the evaluations, treatment and support they needed within their communities. Instead, people with mental illness are far too often effectively re-institutionalized in prisons, jails, homeless shelters and in-patient hospitals.”
LD 1602 would establish the Working Group on Mental Health to assess Maine’s capacity to serve people with mental health concerns. The working group would meet over the summer and fall, and report back to the Legislature in 2020 to propose a comprehensive mental health plan of action for the state.
Sen. Breen’s goal with this bill is to find out how best to shift state funding and resources to community-based services, where Mainers dealing with mental health concerns can receive early intervention assistance, instead of pushing the bulk of funding toward services that help Mainers only after they have entered a crisis situation.
“In my years working on this issue and leading the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, I’ve heard over and over again from law enforcement officials that they need help. Not to get more guns or handcuffs, not to incarcerate more people, but to better support Mainers with mental health issues,” said Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, who co-sponsored the bill. “Approximately 80 percent of our state’s inmates take a daily psychotropic drug. I understand that criminal justice reform is a complex issue, but we cannot keep talking about the need for it, when there are individuals in our community who need services now.”
A variety of groups and organizations testified in favor of LD 1602, including the Maine Sheriffs’ Association, Maine Chiefs of Police Association, Preble Street and Spurwink Services.
“The Department of Corrections medical provider, Wellpath, runs, on average, 77 group therapy sessions per month, serving nearly 500 individuals,” said Randall Liberty, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections. “Wellpath sees on average 505 individuals per month for individual therapy sessions and on average 206 individuals for treatment for a special needs mental health diagnosis.”
“While Medicaid expenditures for behavioral health treatment have increased to hospital and health systems over the last decade, community-based programs have closed or reduced capacity due to flat funding,” said Richard Hook Wayman, President and CEO of Volunteers of America Northern New England. “The subsequent impact on emergency rooms, first responders, jails and schools has been tremendously burdensome.”
LD 1602 faces further committee action and votes before the Maine Senate and House.