AUGUSTA — A former state supreme court chief justice who monitors services for the mentally ill told lawmakers Thursday that he’s unsure whether a plan to privatize intensive case management services is a good idea.

Daniel Wathen, who serves as the court master for the Augusta Mental Health Institute consent decree, said state workers who currently fill those jobs respond to emergencies day and night, something that would need to be spelled out to a private contractor.

“I just know it’s very sensitive,” he told members of the Health and Human Services Committee. “It requires a lot of compentency to handle these situations. I’m fearful it might not pan out.”

Wathen addressed lawmakers with regard to L.D. 1887, a bill that seeks to restructure DHHS. Among the recommendations in the bill is to eliminate 33 intensive case manager positions. The bill also proposes to cut dozens of other jobs within the department.

In total, there’s expected to be a net loss of 47 jobs because of the restructuring.

At a public hearing Wednesday, case managers said they work with people who often don’t know they are ill.

“This group of people have traditionally been the most difficult to engage and keep in treatment as they don’t see the need, don’t stay on medications, keep appointments or follow the rules,” said Peggy Paine of Falmouth. “These are the people I work with.”

Ginette Rivard, president of the Maine State Employees Association, said the state improved its mental health services following a 1996 attack in Waterville in which a mentally ill man killed two nuns and seriously injured two more. They worry that the proposal will “dismantle” the current system.

“The individuals served by the intensive case managers are those individuals who have no other place to go for services,” she said. “Without them, this extremely vulnerable and fragile population will be left without adequate support to maintain their own safety, jeopardizing the safety of our communities in the process.”

Democrats on Thursday questioned the proposal, saying the case managers fill valuable jobs.

“These case managers save lives,” said Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, in a statement. “The consequences of not having them on the job are far worse than any savings the state may see.”

In addition to the job cuts in the restructuring bill, the $38 million supplemental budget under consideration by the Appropriations Committee proposes to eliminate 91 positions at the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor, 45 of which are now filled.

Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.