Strengthening Maine’s Behavioral Health System

April 5, 2022

Supporting mental health and reducing the harm of opioid addiction and other substance use disorders has been a priority for the Mills Administration from day one. In the past three years, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, Maine has built capacity and invested in behavioral health services. 

For example, in this biennium (fiscal years 2022 and 2023) alone, the Governor has proposed $65 million in Federal and state funds to support behavioral health through her supplemental budget. If passed by the Legislature, the Governor’s supplemental budget, the biennial budget ($112 million), and the Home- and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Plan’s bonus payments funded by the American Rescue Plan ($53 million) would yield an unprecedented total investment of $230 million in behavioral health to support the workforce, capacity, and resilience of providers during this challenging time. This funding complements the new programs and policies implemented in recent years.

Much of this change has been led by Jessica Pollard, Ph.D., Director of the Office of Behavioral Health. Dr. Pollard started in the fall of 2019 and helped reorient the Office toward a vision of a balanced and complete continuum of behavioral health services, grounded in best practices and able to tackle long-standing challenges as well as unexpected ones such as the pandemic, which affects Maine residents and providers alike. She helped forge a pathway toward an end to the AMHI consent decree; launch new services and programs like OPTIONS, StrengthenME, and the Cumberland County crisis center; and develop a Justice and Health Team to connect individuals to needed behavioral health services rather than entering the criminal justice system. She will be leaving the Department on April 15 to start a new career chapter. We thank her for her service to the State of Maine and wish her luck in her next venture.

Starting on April 19, 2022, Sarah Squirrell will be Acting Director of the Office of Behavioral Health. Sarah has worked in the Commissioner’s Office since September 2021 on the development of a plan for increasing school-based health services for Maine, with an emphasis on behavioral health services. Given the toll COVID-19 has taken on children and youth in Maine, Sarah has also worked with the Department of Education on increasing access to mental health services in schools this year. She previously served as the Commissioner of Mental Health for the State of Vermont from January 2019 to June 2021. In that capacity, among other accomplishments, she created a strategic plan for the State’s mental health system, oversaw two state-run facilities, and developed and implemented behavioral health initiatives to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. She managed a Department with 260 employees and an annual budget of $280 million. She came to that position having led various non-profits in early childhood education and mental health. She has a Masters of Science degree in community mental health and clinical counseling. 

We welcome Sarah who, along with the entire Department team, will strive to continue the progress made on improving behavioral health services in Maine.