State Sen. Cathy Breen didn’t have to search her district to find a family that would be affected by the state’s proposed changes to services for adults with mental illness.

“In this case, that family is mine,” she said.

The Falmouth senator made the comments in a taped radio address that will be broadcast Saturday. A transcript was released Friday.

In the deeply personal remarks, Breen revealed that her 21-year-old daughter, whom she did not name, lives with child-onset schizophrenia. Her symptoms began in sixth grade, but she has managed it over the last decade with medication, therapy and in-home support.

“For seven hours a day, she receives support in our home and community. That support helps her live a stable life,” Breen said. “But her stability remains so precarious and fragile that she cannot be safely left alone.”

On Monday, Breen’s daughter was waiting for her when she got home. The daughter had bad news. Because of proposed changes by Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services, the service provider that assisted the Breens – Merrymeeting Behavioral Health Services in Brunswick – was closing. Those changes would limit eligibility for so-called Section 17 of MaineCare, which provides services for adults with mental illness or disabilities, to patients with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. Only about 20 percent of Merrymeeting’s clients are in that category, which means the agency couldn’t survive the changes.


Breen’s daughter will still be eligible for services because she has schizophrenia, but because her support provider is closing, Breen doesn’t know what will happen next. The family got more bad news Friday. Instead of closing next week, Merrymeeting was closing at the end of this week.

“As of Monday, she won’t have support at home,” Breen said in a phone interview late Friday. “I honestly don’t know what we’re going to do. Either me or my husband will have to stay home.”

Last summer, when the family had a gap in support services, the daughter’s condition deteriorated and she was hospitalized.

“By August, she had a cast of characters in her head who – every day, all day – threatened to kill her family if she didn’t get to the nearest overpass and throw herself onto Interstate 295,” Breen said.

When Breen spoke to her daughter this week and learned the news, “The very next thing she said was, ‘I’m gonna wind up back in the hospital,’ ” the senator said.

Hundreds of people flooded the State House on Friday to testify during a public hearing on the proposed changes – most to speak in opposition. Breen was among them. She said Friday was as personal as things have gotten for her since she became a state senator in 2014.


“Honestly, though, I’m not special. I just happen to be a sitting senator,” she said. “And my daughter has family that can help her through this time. What about all those people who don’t have that?”

DHHS has said that the changes are necessary because it doesn’t have the resources to care for all the people currently enrolled under Section 17.

But Breen said the alternative is far worse.

“My daughter’s well-being, her ability to function on a daily basis, her safety, and even maybe her life, will be put in jeopardy,” she said. “The hard-earned progress she’s made will be unraveled. And the cost of hospitalization will be astronomically higher than in-home supports.

“I can’t for the life of me understand why these cuts are necessary. But I do know that, for families like mine, they will be devastating.”

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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