Gov. Janet Mills wants to allocate nearly $20 million in additional funding to support health care systems that provide counseling and services, citing the toll the two-year pandemic has taken on Mainers’ mental health.

The governor announced Thursday that she will propose an additional $19.7 million in state funds on top of the $28 million already in her supplemental budget to strengthen the state’s behavioral health services network. The addition will leverage an additional $17.1 million in federal matching funds, Mills said.

With the federal funds, the governor’s supplemental budget for fiscal years 2022-23 could total $65 million for behavioral health services.

“The pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of Maine people, increasing the need for services at the very same time that it exhausts the hardworking professionals who provide these services,” Mills said in a statement. “This investment aims to stabilize our behavioral health system in the short-term as my administration advances the critical structural reforms that will improve and strengthen the system in the long-term.”

Public health experts said in November 2020 that the forced isolation brought on by the pandemic has been a challenge for those with mental health diagnoses or those at risk. Substance use disorder was compounded by the pandemic, with many turning to substances to cope with the added stress and overdose deaths hitting a record in 2021.

Mills said the additional funding will ensure that behavioral health providers are paid adequately so that they can continue to provide high-quality services. Mills’ proposal was developed in collaboration with behavioral health providers.


Katie Fullam Harris, chief government affairs officer for MaineHealth, the parent organization of Maine Medical Center in Portland and seven other hospitals in the state, said the proposal is a long overdue effort to stabilize community behavioral health services. She said the state’s behavioral health system has been neglected for nearly a decade.

“Every day, children and adults in behavioral health crisis get stuck in our emergency departments for days, and sometimes weeks or longer, awaiting access to appropriate levels of care,” Fullam said.

Nurses at Maine Medical Center demonstrated outside hospital in Portland last month saying its emergency department is dealing with a growing number of violent patients who suffer from mental illness. Some psychiatric patients go to the ER because the state’s health care system provides no other options for them, a situation nurses say makes their jobs more difficult and dangerous.

Malory Shaughnessy, executive director of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services, said the additional funds will be used to help Mainers hardest hit by the pandemic.

“While today’s investment does not fix our very stressed system of care, it takes an important step toward stabilizing services as we work together with the administration on the longer term structural changes to improve the behavioral health of our community,” Shaughnessy said.

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