Democratic Weekly Radio Address: LePage DHHS proposals put public safety at risk

Posted: March 23, 2012 | Weekly Radio Address
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Democratic Weekly Radio Address

Good morning, I’m Rep. Anne Haskell from Portland.

 

Thank you for tuning in this morning.

 

This week the governor introduced a bill that would significantly change how the Department of Health and Human Services delivers care, particularly for the most severely mentally ill in our state.

 

Democrats fear that this proposal may have a significant public safety risk. As a long serving member of the state’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, this concerns me and it should concern you.

 

Our concerns were reinforced by law enforcement officials, jail administrators, and advocates for the mentally ill who testified against the proposal for that very reason.

The governor’s proposal includes eliminating a unit called the “intensive case managers.”

 

These case managers are the state’s front-line professionals, who provide emergency mental health intervention services — twenty four hours a day – seven days a week, in communities across the state.

 

The case manager program, which faces $1.9 million in cuts, was created in the aftermath of the tragic 1996 bludgeoning of four nuns in Waterville.

Sixteen years ago, four nuns were beaten and stabbed after a prayer service at the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament in Waterville by a severely mentally ill man.

A news story shortly after the incident, said the parents of the mentally ill man noticed “with mounting alarm” prior to the attack that their 37-year-old son, a manic depressive, was growing agitated and paranoid.

They said he suffered bouts like this in the past and been hospitalized. So much so, they called the hot line at the local mental health center where their so received his medication and counseling. But at the time the center lacked the money for staffing on the weekends, and a machine that should have forwarded the call to an emergency counselor at the state mental hospital in Augusta had been knocked out by a storm, according to the news article.

No one called back.

 

In the aftermath of the deadly and tragic attack that rocked our state and changed the conversation about mental health, the state created the intensive case managers.

 

They are on call all of the time. And they save lives.

 

Even the Governor’s Commissioner of Public Safety John Morris agrees. He said so at the 10 year anniversary honoring the memory of the nuns.

 

Ask just about any police officer, jail official, or mental health advocate, the consequences of not having them on the job are far worse than any savings the state may see by privatizing this group.

 

The 37-member specially trained employees literally embed with county jails and coordinate with police, corrections officials and homeless shelters to monitor and counsel high-risk individuals who may be predisposed to violent and dangerous behavior.

 

They are often the last resort for people who won’t seek treatment and can’t afford it. You cannot contract-out the kind of trust these individuals have built up and earned over decades of experiences.

 

They make our communities, our streets, and our children safer.

 

The LePage Administration already faces a significant trust and competency deficit after its failure to report a cover up of a significant computer error in the state’s health care budget.

 

Cutting these experts is worse. It is shortsighted and dangerous for Maine people.

 

The last round of firings done by this administration had a devastating impact on the MaineCare budget. Now, let’s not let another round of firings have a negative impact on our public safety.

 

Thanks for listening. I’m Rep. Anne Haskell from Portland.