AUGUSTA – Gov.-elect Paul LePage’s budget team is considering a request for an additional $5.6 million for mental health services required by the Augusta Mental Health Institute consent decree, which outlines how the state must provide services.

“We’ve got to decide whether we can cover it or not,” said Sawin Millett, who leads the budget team and is LePage’s nominee to lead the Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

The request is in a report filed this month by Court Master Daniel Wathen, who is monitoring the state’s compliance with the terms of the decree.

Wathen said the Department of Health and Human Services needs $4.6 million for community mental health services and $1 million for additional rental assistance for MaineCare and non-MaineCare clients.

“The department’s ability to meet the terms of the consent decree in the near future depends very much on the outcome of the budget deliberations in the coming legislative session,” Wathen wrote in the report.

The state has been operating under the terms of the decree since 1990, when advocates for the mentally ill sued the state over poor conditions at what was then the Augusta Mental Health Institute. Despite major progress since then — including the construction of a new facility and improvements in care — the state continues to fall short of full compliance.

Part of the reason is budget cuts.

In his most recent quarterly report, Wathen writes that the “primary deficiency in the community mental health system is the unavailability of mental health services” for people who are not eligible for MaineCare.

More than 100 people are on a waiting list, some of whom have waited as long as 695 days, he wrote.

The consent decree calls for services to be provided to people in that group within three working days.

“Clearly, the state of Maine is neglecting the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens,” Wathen wrote. “Those who are deprived of needed services often reappear in the criminal justice system, jails, homeless settings and hospitals.”

The consent decree covers about 4,500 people — everyone who has been treated at AMHI or the Riverview Psychiatric Center since January 1988. The state has an obligation to serve others with mental illness by providing similar services, bringing the total number of people to about 12,000.

LePage’s budget team is writing two budgets: one to balance the state budget that ends June 30, and the other for the two years starting July 1.

Millett said some of the money requested by Wathen is part of deliberations for the budget that ends June 30; the rest would be considered in the two-year spending plan.

The budget team learned recently that state revenue will be $5.2 million less than anticipated for the 2010-11 budget because of the tax cuts extended recently by Congress, he said.

Millett said he wants to talk with Wathen about where the state stands with respect to the consent decree, “and find out in a more candid way how likely it is to achieve compliance in the near term.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]