November 18, 2019
BANGOR DAILY NEWS (BANGOR, MAINE

Reorganization OK’d for mental health unit> Move is step toward broader community services

AUGUSTA — The Productivity Realization Task Force voted 12-1 Friday to accept a $4.6 million reorganization plan for the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.

But it also voted to reinvest all of $4.6 million in savings in the department as requested by Commissioner Melodie Peet. Gov. Angus S. King has said he might want to claim some of that to help meet the task force’s overall goal of $45 million in savings, but for now none of the $4.6 million counts toward that goal.

Sen. Michael Michaud, D-East Millinocket, who voted by proxy, was the only task force member to oppose the plan. He said later he wasn’t satisfied that enough services were being provided in communities.

The plan does not address the question of closing Augusta Mental Health Institute or Bangor Mental Health Institute. Two separate panels are to study that issue, with a report due by midsummer.

Peet said the plan would help the state continue to move away from institutional spending and toward providing community services.

Maine spends about 62 percent of its mental health budget on the state institutions at AMHI, BMHI and Pineland, and only 38 percent on community services. She said an ideal ratio, achieved by a few states, would be to spend 70 percent on community services and 30 percent on institutions.

Maine is among the top 10 states in per capita spending on mental health care, Peet said, but it’s in the bottom 10 states in the percentage of its budget spent on community services.

“This is probably the first-ever organizational shift for this department,” said Peet. “What we hope to gain is easier access to services for people.”

The mental health plan calls for a net reduction of 72 jobs from a department that employs more than 1,800. Peet said previous reductions had claimed about 800 jobs in the last few years.

The plan calls for cutting 44 jobs at Bangor Mental Health Institute. At the Augusta Mental Health Institute, 25 jobs are to be eliminated.

The plan will consolidate 15 regional mental health and mental retardation operations into three regions.

Bath Children’s Home will be turned over to a private operator and $660,000 will be spent to provide better services to adolescents who are homeless, at risk and difficult to serve.

The plan realigns the department’s bureau structure of the Division of Mental Health, the Division of Mental Retardation and the Bureau of Children with Special Needs. The new alignment will be the Administration Division, the Program Division and the Division of Systems Operations.

Peet dropped a plan to rename the agency the “Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.”

The department operates under the constraints of three court orders, and Peet said the reorganization would help channel money into meeting the requirements of the consent decrees.

“This is not the moment in time when the state wants to erode the resource base of the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation,” said Peet.

The Productivity Realization Task Force is almost done with its work and King will forward a package of efficiency-related savings to the Legislature later this month.

The only remaining department in the productivity review is the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, whose revenues are dedicated and presumably can’t be used for productivity savings.

King said this week the task force would come within $2.5 million of its $45 million goal, and he believed the difference could be made up with some relatively painless budget-cutting.

“I’m proud of the results,” said King. “This was not easy.”

The governor said 1,100 to 1,200 jobs will be eliminated by the task force and Legislature, but he said almost 70 percent of those were vacant. That means about 350 actual layoffs will result from the process.

The first half of the task force plan, worth $25 million, was approved by the Legislature in special session in November. Once the Legislature approves the rest of the task force plan, King said its work will be done.

“This will be the end of the large-scale downsizing, but not the end of paying attention to this,” he said.


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