Last month, a letter arrived in the mailboxes of thousands of Mainers with severe mental illness. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services informed recipients that the services they rely on to stay healthy and live as independently as possible may be cut on April 8, 2016.
The decision by DHHS would restrict eligibility under Section 17 of the MaineCare Manual, which provides intensive case management to adults with mental illness and disabilities. It would keep only schizophrenic and schizoaffective disorder patients under the plan, and potentially drop thousands of people with other types of mental illness.
The letter seemed to come out of nowhere and led to far more questions than answers. I received several urgent letters, emails and phone calls from Windham constituents deeply concerned about what these cuts could mean for them or their loved ones.
A recipient of Section 17 may be an elderly man living alone who needs help grocery shopping and taking his medication. It may be a young woman with depression and anxiety who is working with a caseworker to apply for a job and get her life on track. It may be a veteran with PTSD who simply needs help to get through the day.
Many of these individuals would struggle to access basic necessities – including food, housing and healthcare - without in-home support and would be forced to move into an assisted living facility.
Both patients and providers were blindsided by this major change. But Mainers are a hardy bunch. Hundreds of individuals who would be affected by the proposed change stood up to the administration and successfully petitioned the legislature to review the cuts. This led to a public hearing before the Health and Human Services Committee, which took place last week.
Over 300 people came to the State House to protest the change and deliver brave testimony about their personal experiences. The committee heard from parents, patients and providers. They also heard powerful stories from individuals who no longer need Section 17 services because of the skills and confidence they gained from working with their caseworkers and learning to live on their own. They spoke up because they want that support to be there for others.
The hearing made it clear that the way the department rolled out these changes was wrong. This is not the first attempt by the administration to undermine mental health services, and Mainers stood up and said “enough is enough.”
As a result of the hearing, Democrats on the committee are working on a bill to slow down the process so that more time can be given to decisions that will have a dramatic impact on the lives of Mainers living with mental illness.
If you have any questions about this or any other matter, please do not hesitate to contact me at home in Windham at 892-6591 or by mail at firstname.lastname@example.org