Mental health advocates push for better access to treatment in Maine

Mental health advocates push for better access to treatment in Maine

On Monday, mental health advocates called on Governor Mills, the state legislature and Maine’s congressional delegation to better fund progressive treatment programs.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Yacia Provencher shared her frustration with the state of Maine’s mental health system with reporters during a press conference at the Maine State House in Augusta on Monday. She said she spent years trying to get help from her ex-boyfriend, Justin Butterfield, for her severe brain disorder (SBD) only to be told he was “not quite dangerous.”

“I was told they didn’t believe he had psychosis,” Provencher said, fighting back tears. “And everyone continued on their way, returning home and their families to safety.”

Butterfield, 34, from Poland, was charged with the murder of his brother, Gabriel Damour, 38, on November 24, and Provencher said it could have been avoided.

Twelve years ago, the pprogressive treatment program bill was adopted by the legislator. It was sponsored by former Senator John Nutting and co-sponsored by former Senator Peter Mills, the brother of current Governor Janet Mills.

Nutting said Monday that while the program exists in Maine, there are too many limitations for anyone to have a plan.

“There are still many medical professionals in Maine who don’t know the law exists because the department hasn’t told them and promoted it,” Nutting added.

During the last legislative session, a bill was passed to create a graduated treatment plan fund to pay for graduated treatment plans. But still, advocates said that’s not enough, and if people don’t get the help they need, they will continue to commit horrific crimes like murder.

“When left untreated, they are four times more likely to become violent. For example, 29% of all domestic homicides are perpetrated by someone with untreated SBD,” Jeanne Allen Gore with the National Coalition to Break the Silence said.

Gore spent 13 years trying to put his son through a phased treatment plan. He was hospitalized 43 times before she passed.

“My son is a great example of the success we can have. He’s an accomplished musician who lives independently in the community and is his niece’s and nephew’s favorite uncle,” Gore said.

Advocates are calling on Governor Mills, state legislatures and the Maine congressional delegation to support and better fund progressive treatment programs to prevent more crimes from happening when diseases, such as SBD , are not processed.

In a statement from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, a spokesperson wrote the following in an email:

“People in Maine facing mental health issues should have access to effective, compassionate treatment in an appropriate setting that respects their rights and needs. Governor Mills has demonstrated her commitment to this goal by investing in behavioral health in each of its budgets, following the underfunding of the system over the previous eight years. In the 2022 and 2023 state fiscal years, the Department is investing a historic $230 million in behavioral health to support the workforce, capacity, and resilience of mental health care providers and substance abuse, as well as sustainable MaineCare rates in the future.

“This includes $15 million to address immediate needs exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, reduce hospital emergency department use for behavioral health crises, meet increased demand due to long term effects end of the pandemic on mental health, and stabilize and help reduce wait lists for community services.The governor further directed that the $20 million included in his Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan for strengthen Maine’s healthcare workforce prioritize behavioral health.

For more information on the new bill passed to establish a graduated treatment plan fund to pay for graduated treatment plans, click here.

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