The executive director of Portland nonprofit fears more than 200 Mainers who suffer from severe mental illness could end up homeless if state officials do not add money for certain programs by July.
Mary Haynes-Rodgers, who heads Shalom House Inc., a Portland-based nonprofit agency that helps provide housing and community integration assistance to people with severe and persistent mental illness, has banded together with three other Portland-area support agencies to call for the funding. Joining Shalom House Inc.’s entreaty were executive directors of Community Housing of Maine and Preble Street, both in Portland, and Tedford Housing in Brunswick.
In a letter sent Tuesday, the agencies requested an impact statement regarding the cut to services — estimated at $4.5 to $4.7 million — and a restoration of that money in time for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
The agency officials are urging Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, Gov. Paul LePage and the Legislature to put in the additional funding previously provided to help meet requirements of a consent decree.
That consent decree settled a 1989 lawsuit filed by patients against the former Augusta Mental Health Institute and holds the state mental health system to agreed-upon standards of care for those with severe and persistent mental illness.
In addition to losing housing, Haynes-Rodgers said, an estimated 25 people will lose the community integration services they receive through Shalom House and could very well end up in crisis, needing more costly services provided by a hospital, for instance.
And those are just the people served by that agency. There are other agencies across the state also serving people with severe and persistent mental illness, the nonprofit officials say.
Helen Bailey, an attorney with the Augusta-based Disability Rights Center of Maine, which represented plaintiffs in the original lawsuit that resulted in the consent decree, said by email Tuesday that the outlook for funding is unclear.
With no money budgeted for the state’s next fiscal year, that amounts to a $4.7 million cut for mental health services that the consent decree says need to be offered, Bailey said. The money covers services for non-MaineCare members, such as Assertive Community Treatment Teams, community support services and medication management.
“I don’t know what the department’s plans are for filling the gap in 2015,” Bailey said. “The court master (Daniel Wathen) has previously reported the need for the funds. The department acknowledged the need in its request to the governor. The governor acknowledged the need at least as of last year. It would appear that individuals with serious and persistent mental illness will lose critical services.”
Wathen, who on Tuesday called the funding “an area that’s been chronically underfunded,” monitors the department’s compliance with the consent decree and makes regular reports to a judge who handles the case. Wathen said he and the Department of Health and Human Services in 2010 together estimated $5.6 million was needed annually to provide rental and community mental health services to people with severe and persistent mental illness who were ineligible for MaineCare either temporarily or otherwise.
“The mental health population is made up of those people who are MaineCare-eligible and not MaineCare-eligible,” Wathen said. “The obligation of the state is to take care of both those groups.”
In 2011, the governor’s budget included those amounts for fiscal years 2012 and 2013; the Legislature appropriated the full amount for 2012, but only the housing portion for 2013, according to Wathen.
“The Legislature hasn’t appropriated anything since then,” Wathen said, adding that the department has asked for supplemental funding to restore the $5.6 million and he’d like to see that amount kept in place for future years.
Wathen plans to speak Wednesday before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee and hopes that the funding will be forthcoming once the Legislature understands the need. Sen. Margaret Craven, chairwoman of the committee, couldn’t be reached immediately for comment Tuesday.
“I truly think there is a possibility of them doing this,” Wathen said. “The problem is people with severe and persistent mental illness don’t go away. They show up in jail, in court, in the hospital, and each has its own cost. This is really a pretty wise expenditure.”
At the moment, 163 people are waiting for community integration services. Many of them have waited for four or five months, and one or two people have waited more than a year.
“That’s basically help in getting treatment,” Wathen said. “The community integration worker is key to opening the rest of the system.”