By Ramona du Houx
The governor’s plan to make deep cuts in mental health services puts at-risk vulnerable Mainers by reducing the availability of vital services, increasing wait lists and pushing them toward crisis, according to testimony at public hearings before the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee.
The governor’s proposed state budget would impose 10 percent across-the-board cuts in Medicaid behavioral and mental health services. The governor’s budget would also deal cuts of about 60 percent to some providers in the area of medication management, services now provided by psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses to ensure that patients are complying with their regimens and not in danger of potentially dangerous drug complications.
In his testimony, Tom McAdam, chief executive of Kennebec Behavioral Health, referred to a 1996 tragedy in Waterville in which a severely mentally ill man bludgeoned to death two elderly nuns and left two others severely injured. He described how the case galvanized mental health services in Maine.
“I think it had a fairly major impact on the entire system. I think that it helped to bring resources into the community-based side. And frankly, many of us that are in the provider community are confused by some of the initiatives in this budget because they kind of run counter to what we thought our role and responsibility (were) as community providers,” McAdam said. “Really, next to housing, for people to be successful med management – access to med management – is important. And we already have an access issue, and that really is especially true for the kids.”
Democrats reaffirmed their commitment to a budget that protects the most vulnerable Mainers.
“The governor’s cuts would shred our safety net. They would have devastating effects on some of our most vulnerable Mainers – those grappling with severe mental illness – as well as their families and communities. Slashing mental health services to this extent has grave implications for public health and public safety in Maine. It’s beyond irresponsible to play games with people’s lives and public safety like this. The governor has presented us with a series of false choices. We do not need to pit one group against another,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, House chair of the budget-writing committee.
“The facts presented today over hours of testimony show that we must protect mental health services. These drastic cuts would prevent Mainers with mental illness from getting needed care and push them toward crisis. Providing sufficient services is not only compassionate, it makes economic sense. Severely mentally ill people who cannot access the services they need often wind up in emergency rooms or in jail, much more expensive and traumatic experiences that can be avoided,” said Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, a member of the budget-writing committee.