AUGUSTA — A $17.5 million plan to expand Maine’s mental health and crisis response services won broad support Monday from hospitals, mental health care providers and advocates for suicide prevention and victims of domestic violence.

The proposal from House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, would increase investments in mobile mental health crisis units, create at least six additional mental health crisis receiving centers across the state, expand access to medication management services, and create a violence prevention office during a public hearing Monday.

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross talks during a press conference on Jan 17. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

No one spoke against the bill Monday and calls for investments in mental health have drawn bipartisan support in the wake of the mass shooting in Lewiston last fall that killed 18 people and wounded 13. The same is not expected to be true in the coming days when lawmakers hold public hearings on several new gun safety proposals also introduced in response to the mass shooting.

Advocates stressed Monday that people who experience mental health issues or disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. But, they said, the speaker’s proposal could go a long way toward reducing suicides and police shootings in Maine, which typically target men experiencing a mental health crisis.

Rep. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, said her community is still struggling to recover from the Oct. 25 mass shooting at a bowling alley and bar.

“I’m left in despair witnessing the devastation the people in my community are suffering,” Craven said. “There’s confusion, hurt, grief, loss, all kinds of anger, fear, economic stress and a lack of mental health services.”


Talbot Ross’ bill builds on a similar proposal from Gov. Janet Mills, who has proposed funding one new mental health crisis receiving center in Lewiston in the next budget and expanding mobile mental health units. Talbot Ross said lawmakers should immediately pay to create new crisis receiving centers in Androscoggin, Aroostook, Oxford, Penobscot, Washington and York counties.

“This bill elevates the new investment to a transformational level and even then we know this is merely the beginning of what is needed for systemic change,” Talbot Ross said. “We must look at this as a statewide response and we must look at it immediately.”

There is currently one crisis receiving center in Portland, the Living Room at Spurwink, which has logged over 8,400 visits since it opened in 2022. It provides a place where people experiencing a mental health crisis can seek compassionate care and get connected to services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, before they end up in an emergency room or jail. It’s staffed by a team that includes a nurse practitioner, clinician, nurse, crisis service providers that are similar to case managers, and peer-support specialists.

The proposed investment comes days after the state announced it expects to bring in an additional $108 million in revenue over the next two years. That’s on top of a $265 million surplus that was previously projected. The administration, however, said in a news release Friday that the surplus revenue is expected to be temporary and warned against relying on the money for ongoing spending priorities.

During Monday’s hearing, advocates said Talbot Ross’ bill would begin to rebuild the state’s mental health system after a decade of underinvestment. They said the bill would provide critical resources that would allow people to be treated more often in their communities, without having to be taken into custody by police or sent to an emergency room.

Brunswick resident Diane Kew told members of the Health and Human Services Committee that she twice attempted suicide before being diagnosed with clinical depression nearly 20 years ago. Since then, she has lived a stable life as a mother, wife and professional because she was able to see a counselor and get appropriate medications.


Kew believes it would have been easier for her family to get her help if resources proposed in the bill had been available.

“If stronger and more expansive mental health crisis response services had been available 24/7, Part A of the bill, I think I would have used them,” Kew said. “And I think if my husband and my sister had known what resources were available, then they could have reached out for help instead of fretting in a vacuum.”

Mark Joyce, a managing attorney at Disability Rights Maine, a federally mandated protection and advocacy system, said provisions in the bill to add peer support for mobile crisis units and expand crisis centers would make it easier for people he represents to ask for help. Too often his, clients are removed from their homes and communities and placed in emergency rooms after seeking help, making them less likely to ask again, he said.

“Most people who think a bad thing is going to happen if they call for help … won’t call for help,” Joyce said.

Joyce also applauded funding in the bill to expand medicine management services so people can receive the right medication and in the right dose to manage their mental health.

Current wait times for this service can be up to 18 months, advocates said. And a representative from MaineHealth said the hospital network had to turn away nearly 1,100, or 26%, of the people referred for medication management services last year because of a lack of capacity.


“It really is a problem on the ground with our clients,” Joyce said.

Thomas Minch, who is deaf and an advocate for Disability Rights Maine, relayed the frustration many in the Deaf and hard of hearing community experienced during and after the Lewiston shooting – which claimed the lives of four deaf people – when trying to access public safety information. He applauded a proposal for the state to develop an alert system in active shooter incidents that includes the Deaf community, which struggled to get real time information about their friends and the status of the manhunt.

“On Oct. 25, public communications about the shooting failed to include or consider us,” Minch said through an interpreter. “This failure was terrifying.”

Gun safety advocates expressed support for a provision that would create an Office of Violence Prevention in the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That office would work with other state agencies, community groups and health care providers to collect data about gun violence, including suicides, and recommend a strategy for addressing it.

That office, plus a proposed Gun Shop Program, which would provide suicide prevention education and training materials to firearm dealers so they can recognize someone in a mental health crisis and perhaps deny a firearm sale, could make a big difference when combined with additional gun safety measures, according to Lynne Ellis, a board member of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition.

“I will end with the hope that we can, informed by data and facts, address the issue of gun violence in Maine,” Ellis said. “The fact we have seen so many unspeakable examples of tragic loss of life to firearms in Maine over the last year is reason for concern and action. Coupled with the increase in school lockdowns and heightened anxiety among our population, we must take steps to pass common sense legislation.”

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