March 22, 2012
AUGUSTA – Democratic state legislators say Governor Paul LePage’s proposal for an extensive restructuring of the Department of Health and Human Services could have a damaging impact on public safety. The comments come after hours of public testimony on the 48-page bill that was presented to the Health and Human Services Committee late yesterday.
“The proposal raises even more questions on the heels of the cover up of the significant computer problems at DHHS,” said Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, the lead House Democrat on the committee. “We already have a trust deficit, and frankly, we are very concerned about the administration’s competency as it is, without losing any more qualified staff experts.”
Committee members learned yesterday that the LePage administration is proposing to do away with the unit of “intensive case managers,” the state’s front-line professionals who provide emergency mental health intervention services in communities across the state. The case manager program, which faces $1.9 million in cuts, was created in the aftermath of the 1996 nun bludgeoning in Waterville.
“These case managers save lives,” said Senator Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, the Democratic Senator on the committee. “The consequences of not having them on the job are far worse than any savings the state may see.”
Sixteen years ago, four nuns were beaten and stabbed after a prayer service at the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament in Waterville by a severely mentally ill man.
A New York Times report filed shortly after the incident, dated Jan. 31, 1996, said:
“The parents of Mark Bechard noticed with mounting alarm in the last few weeks [prior to the attack] that their 37-year-old son, a manic depressive, was growing agitated and paranoid. He had suffered bouts like this in the past and been hospitalized. So late on Saturday afternoon, just as a powerful storm roared through town with gusts of 70 miles an hour, they called the hot line at the local mental health center where Mr. Bechard received his medication and counseling. But the center lacks money for staffing on the weekends, and a machine that should have forwarded the call to an emergency counselor at the state mental hospital in Augusta had been knocked out by the storm. No one called back.”
In responses to questions today from Sen. Craven, Former Chief Justice Daniel Wathen told lawmakers that it would be incredibly difficult to replace their level of expertise and care or write a contract that details out the work that case managers can be mandated to do because they are not employees.
It appears that the restructuring will also trigger the loss of 17 million in federal funds, including $15 million for foster care and adoption services, according to Eves.
The committee is expected to vote on the measure in the coming week.
Jodi Quintero [Eves] 287-1488, c. 841-6279
Ericka Dodge [Craven] 232-5892