LePage’s proposed changes for people with mental illnesses verge on neglect

I saw that the Department of Health and Human Services under the LePage administration is apparently summarily changing policies regarding access to certain community services. Now only people with diagnoses of either schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder will be guaranteed case management and in-home support services. Other diagnoses may warrant such services, but, to access them, clients and providers will have to go through a time-consuming (and time-wasting) process for a waiver. I couldn’t help but wonder how such a thing could come to be.

Community-based mental health services are already failing large populations, leading to many people with mental illness landing in jail. A great snippet in the BDN recently showed how we now incarcerate as many people with mental illnesses as we used to hospitalize. This fact alone is significant enough to show that the systems designed to serve people in the wake of deinstitutionalization, like the closing of AMHI and reducing the number of people served in psychiatric hospitals in Maine, were and still are insufficient and ineffective for large numbers of people.

(Stock photo)

(Stock photo)

Rather than evaluate what is contributing to this disturbing turn of events — things like caliber of services, what services might be needed but aren’t being provided or aren’t billable, housing issues — the LePage administration just wants to cut services. No reforming, reshaping or adding whatever is missing that is leading to so many mentally ill in jail. Just cuts. The administration claims there are alternate programs available. However, that’s the same line of shortsighted thinking that led to deinstitutionalization’s failure.

The mantra for deinstitutionalization was that people can be better served in their communities, but, it turns out, for too many, those services come in the form of a jail cell. From a governmental standpoint, it’s an abdication of responsibility to place people in need of care in a jail cell rather than provide the necessary level of service in a better setting.

It’s a further abdication of responsibility to cut those services for the most vulnerable without first establishing why they are already failing so often. It just doesn’t make sense.

Even worse than previous administrations governing under the AMHI consent decree, the LePage administration’s selective perception regarding what constitutes “welfare reform” borders on willful neglect when it comes to proposed policies such as this one.

**************************

I was grateful to see the BDN editorial board call out Democrats for caving to pressure to reform welfare with restrictive measures. In their editorial, they applauded the efforts of Rep. Drew Gattine who put forth a bill proposing that the state measure to what extent social service programs are actually lifting people out of poverty. I’d like to join the editorial board in cheering for Gattine’s efforts.

I had the good fortune to interview Gattine at the end of last year and was impressed by his commitment to taxpayers and recipients. He said that taxpayers deserved to know that their dollars are paying for programs that really work. He’s right, and his bill is a step in that direction.

If Republicans are genuinely concerned about welfare reform, they’d join us in supporting Gattine’s bill. Want to make sure people are on welfare for the least amount of time possible? Make sure those welfare programs actually work.

It’s that simple.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.