AUGUSTA – A proposal introduced by Rep. Lori Gramlich, D-Old Orchard Beach, on  April 7,2021 aims to bring children who are receiving behavioral health care services out of state home to Maine.

“As a parent, I cannot begin to imagine the anguish of having my child, who is not only in need of therapeutic behavioral health care but also in need of her parents, be placed so far from our home state and the people she loves,” said Gramlich. “What is even more difficult to fathom is what it must be like for that child to be so far away from her parent or guardian – her support system.”

LD 1173 would require the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to develop a plan to bring children who are receiving residential behavioral health services out of state back home to Maine. The department would be required to present its plan to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, which is charged with overseeing the department. The committee could then take any necessary legislative action to ensure the children are able to come home and receive the care they need in Maine.

Gramlich sponsored a related proposal that became law in 2019. That measure directed the Department of Health and Human Services to work with families and service providers to secure needed care in order to bring these children back to Maine. Two years later, however, the number of children placed in residential behavioral health programs outside of Maine has grown from 61 to 78 children.

“That is 78 kids too many. That is 78 families who cannot see each other. These parents cannot fully engage in their child’s treatment and care when they can’t even visit them regularly, a situation only made worse by the pandemic,” said Gramlich. “We must provide these young people with the care and services they need right here at home in Maine.”

Advocates and Maine-based providers of behavioral health care services for children testified in support of the bill at a public hearing on Wednesday.

“Service providers could work with the Department to meet the specific needs – whether that means more intensive staffing, some structural changes in buildings or specialized training to address the gaps in levels of treatment. These are all things that could be done to meet the needs for the vast majority of these children, but the department must be willing to invest in these services, which would be cheaper and better than sending kids away from their families and support networks,” said Betsy Sweet, who spoke in support of the bill on behalf of the Behavioral Health Collaborative.

The committee will hold a work session on the bill in the coming weeks. At that time, committee members will have the opportunity to propose amendments before voting on a recommendation to the full Legislature.

Gramlich is a longtime social worker and public health advocate who is currently serving her second term in the Maine House. She is a member of the Taxation Committee and the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

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