Thank you to court master Daniel Wathen for bringing to the public’s attention what has long been suspected: that Maine Department of Health and Human Services funds earmarked for community-based services and support have been withheld from those very programs in order to fund a plan for a new 16-bed psychiatric facility, which would be run by a contractor from Tennessee.

Wathen’s opposition to the funding plan for the new facility brings to light the policies of the current gubernatorial administration, which have caused the delay and oftentimes the complete lack of services for children and adults with special health care needs. These funds were meant to support in-home and community services for some of the most vulnerable populations. Studies have shown that positive outcomes for these individuals are much more likely when they receive support in their “least restrictive environments”: that is, within their own homes and communities, not residential psychiatric facilities.

The policies of this current administration have caused these programs to be extremely underfunded, which has resulted in year-long wait lists, no available services and lack of supports when an individual is discharged from a residential facility. This can result in hardships that may complicate and exacerbate already difficult situations. Circumstances that could have been addressed through community-based support now have the potential to rise to a crisis level, requiring higher levels of care and even repeated hospitalizations and stays within psychiatric facilities.

The argument can be made that there is a dire need for improvements to our existing residential psychiatric facilities as well as for more facilities here in Maine, and I would agree. The statistics show the need is high but that the outcomes from our current facilities are challenged at best.

However, to take money from one program to fund another program within the same population does nothing to benefit these individuals. Moreover, to take funds to build a new facility, run by an out-of-state company, before funding improvements to our current facilities does little to address our current psychiatric facility needs or to improve outcomes for individuals being treated.

In fact, the $5.4 million being taken to fund this project would benefit far more than 16 individuals if used as it was meant to be used: within our current community support waiver programs. In addition, by properly funding these programs, whose positive outcomes are measured and proven, you are providing an early intervention that may avoid the need for some of these individuals to undergo hospitalization within a psychiatric facility.

We may have a surplus from the outgoing administration, but where has this money come from and at what expense to Maine’s population? Our citizens deserve better, and they deserve to have services available to them when they have properly qualified for and need those services. When fully funded, provided and done well, the programs result in a better quality of life, not only for those individuals but also for the community members who surround them, which can be anybody at anytime.

Maine needs to turn the tide and properly support funding proven interventions and programs. This means providing support to individuals within their own homes and communities. These types of programs exist through our Department of Health and Human Services and our public schools, both of which have been underfunded the last eight years. Proper funding of these programs may lower the need for more intensive care. At the same time, our current psychiatric residential facilities need better in-state support to increase positive outcomes and decrease the need for future repeat inpatient care.

Let’s hope Wathen has started the process of uncovering where the money has gone in the past in hopes that it can be better spent in the future.

Carrie Woodcock of Saco is the mother of two children with disabilities and a professional working with families of children with disabilities.

 

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