Maine Behavioral Healthcare plans to open a new $14.7 million center in Portland next year to provide outpatient services for adults and children with autism or intellectual disabilities.

The Center of Excellence in Autism and Developmental Disorders, to be located on the Spring Harbor Hospital campus near the Portland-Westbrook line, will serve 600 to 700 patients, including 400 to 500 pediatric patients. Construction of the 28,000-square-foot building is expected to begin this spring and be completed by the summer of 2021.

Dr. Matthew Siegel, director of the developmental disorders program at Maine Behavioral Healthcare, said the center will increase Maine Behavioral Health’s capacity to serve children by hundreds of patients. He also noted that adults with intellectual disabilities are a historically underserved population in Maine.

“We will be going from zero to 200 adult patients,” Siegel said. “We do not serve adults right now, but almost no one does. We wanted to address the emotional and behavioral needs of adults. We are trying to increase access because we know the demand outstrips the supply.”

The center will replace an 8,000-square-foot autism center in South Portland that serves only children. Those services will be relocated to the new building, and the South Portland facility will be repurposed within the MaineHealth network, Siegel said. Maine Behavioral Healthcare is an arm of MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Medical Center.

The services provided at the new center will include psychiatry, psychology, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, sensory therapy, case management and support groups. The new building will feature a gymnasium and a full-day preschool. Toddlers will have access to an early intervention program, which Siegel said is proven to have positive outcomes for most patients, such as moving a child from nonverbal to verbal ability and improving IQ.

For adults, the new center is a welcome addition to services, said Ray Nagel, executive director of the Independence Association, a Brunswick nonprofit that operates group homes and provides other services for adults with intellectual disabilities.

“It is great, great news,” Nagel said of the new autism center. “But we still have a shortage of everything. More people are being diagnosed with developmental disorders every day, and we have less and less people to serve them.”

Denise Beavers is the sister and advocate for Hank Homer, an adult with intellectual disabilities who suffered a brain injury as a child. Beavers said while her brother is in a temporary, community-based home in Monmouth and could soon get into a permanent group home, other services are nonexistent or difficult to find.

“Rehabilitation services have been a real struggle,” Beavers said. “We can’t get a psychiatrist for him, and he’s been on a wait-list for two years.”

Nagel said nonprofits will be lobbying the Legislature on an array of bills to help address the shortage of group homes, including reimbursement rate increases for direct care workers and proposals to fund the wait-list.

The wait-list for housing in one part of the Medicaid program that serves adults with intellectual disabilities – known as Section 21 – is about 1,600 deep, and it can take years to get off the list and into housing.

About 5,500 intellectually disabled adult Mainers receive help under Medicaid, either through Section 21 or another program, Section 29.

Laura Cordes, executive director of the Maine Association for Community Service Providers, which represents the nonprofits before the Legislature, said that while the new services are promising, a “statewide crisis still persists.”

“People with intellectual disabilities and autism – adults and children alike – continue to wait for or lose services due to a severe workforce crisis caused by low reimbursement rates and compounded by increased expenses, a rising minimum wage and low unemployment rate. The current (reimbursement) rate provides for an hourly wage for workers that is below the new minimum wage,” Cordes said in a statement.

Jackie Farwell, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said the state is conducting a “comprehensive rate system evaluation” and that the department is working on an overall strategy to improve services for adults with intellectual disabilities.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.