AUGUSTA – A former state Supreme Court chief justice who monitors services for the mentally ill told lawmakers Thursday that he’s unsure whether a plan to privatize intensive-case management is a good idea.

Daniel Wathen, the court master for the Augusta Mental Health Institute consent decree, said state workers who now fill those jobs respond to emergencies day and night, and that would have to be spelled out to a private contractor.

“I just know it’s very sensitive,” he told members of the Health and Human Services Committee. “It requires a lot of competency to handle these situations. I’m fearful it might not pan out.”

Wathen addressed lawmakers regarding L.D. 1887, a bill that would restructure the DHHS. Among the recommendations in the bill is eliminating 33 intensive-case manager positions. The bill also proposes to cut dozens of other jobs in the department.

In total, a net loss of 47 jobs would be expected in the restructuring.

At a public hearing Thursday, case managers said they work with people who often don’t know they are ill.

“This group of people have traditionally been the most difficult to engage and keep in treatment, as they don’t see the need, don’t stay on medications, keep appointments or follow the rules,” said Peggy Paine of Falmouth. “These are the people I work with.”

Ginette Rivard, president of the Maine State Employees Association, said the state improved its mental health services after a mentally ill man killed two nuns and seriously injured two in 1996 in Waterville. The proposal could “dismantle” the current system, Rivard, said.

“The individuals served by the intensive-case managers are those individuals who have no other place to go for services,” she said. “Without them, this extremely vulnerable and fragile population will be left without adequate support to maintain their own safety, jeopardizing the safety of our communities in the process.”

Democrats questioned the proposal Thursday, saying the case managers do valuable jobs.

“These case managers save lives,” Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, said in a prepared statement. “The consequences of not having them on the job are far worse than any savings the state may see.”

In addition to the job cuts in the restructuring bill, the supplemental state budget that’s being considered by the Appropriations Committee would eliminate 91 positions at the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor, 45 of which are now filled.

State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

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