Lawmakers push for money to strengthen Maine’s mental health crisis system

AUGUSTA — Lawmakers are considering a bill that would funnel more funding to Maine’s mental health crisis system in hopes of freeing county jails of the burden of caring for the state’s mentally ill.

Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, urged the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee to back an amended bill she has co-sponsored to rebuild the state’s mental health crisis system. The initial version of the measure would have funded four regional crisis centers, but an amendment aims to beef up existing services in Maine and fully fund a mobile response unit.

Warren told lawmakers that 86 percent of those being held in Maine’s 15 county jails were being given medication for their mental health conditions.

“We are relying on our correctional system to house mental health patients,” she told the committee.

The bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, said the focus of the bill was to make existing services more readily available to those in crisis. “One of the things this bill will do is to try to make the things that are already available, available 24-7,” Breen said.

“We have providers that have literally beds available but no staff,” she said.

Committee members said they wanted to know how much the proposal would cost, which was still being determined.

Warren said Maine already spends $95 million a year on county jails, with 80 percent of that being paid by local property taxes.

The bill, LD 803, which was carried over from 2019, previously sought to create four regional intervention centers.

The measure also seeks to strengthen two crisis hotlines for those seeking help.

This story will be updated.

 

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