Editorial by State Senator Cathy Breen, from Falmouth
Gov. LePage’s Department of Health and Human Services recently announced its plan to make dramatic cuts to services for people living with mental illness. That announcement sent a shock wave to families of people who depend on those services to survive.
I could get into the weeds about the proposed changes in eligibility and funding for clients with mental illness. But instead, I want to talk about the catastrophic effect those changes could have on a family in my district.
In this case, that family is mine.
I have a 21-year-old daughter. She is wonderful, intelligent, talented and generous. She also lives with child-onset schizophrenia. Her symptoms began when she was in the sixth grade. Over the past 10 years, she and our family have learned how to manage and live with this devastating illness.
But late last summer, my daughter suffered a profound relapse. She admitted herself into the psychiatric hospital in our area, and it took about 7 weeks of in-patient care to get her well enough to return home.
Since that time, she has gradually improved with the help of medication, therapy, and in-home daily living support. For seven hours a day, she receives support in our home and community. That support helps her live a stable life. But her stability remains so precarious and fragile that she cannot be safely left alone.
This Monday, she greeted me in the mudroom when I got home. Her support person had given her some big news: Because of the governor’s proposed cuts, her service provider was going to close. No more in-home support.
The very next thing she said was: “I’m gonna wind up back in the hospital.”
She was so certain that was true, and it made sense. Because that’s exactly what happened last summer, when my daughter’s condition deteriorated rapidly during a gap in support services. 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.
Ironically, under the governor’s proposed rule changes, my daughter remains eligible for services. But her service provider is closing after 16 years because it can’t survive under DHHS’s new conditions.
We will most likely face another gap in services. And 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. 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.
I’m calling on all of my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans alike, to do what they can to prevent these needless cuts. We have the power to make sure people like my daughter aren’t abandoned by our public health system.