With the Legislature in full swing, my colleagues and I are busy submitting legislation, offering testimony at public hearings and learning about various policy initiatives before the committees we are all assigned to serve on. I serve as House chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, and while issues relating to protecting our environment and precious shoreline remain one of my top priorities, my lifelong advocacy on behalf of children and mental health care also remains critically important to my work on your behalf in Augusta.

As in previous years, I have submitted a number of policy proposals aimed at strengthening our fractured mental health system. Far too many children remain languishing in emergency departments awaiting critically important mental health care. We continue to have children placed outside of Maine for residential treatment, and children with behavioral issues at times inappropriately placed at Long Creek Juvenile Center, unable to access the care they need. Providers across the state who work in each of these areas with children are hard working and dedicated. They are doing the very best they can with the resources they have, but we can do much better.

In an effort to continue to elevate the work of providers as well as shed light on the services that children so desperately need, I am pleased to share that last month, the Legislature passed a Joint Resolution dedicating Friday, Feb. 10 as Community Mental Health Awareness Day. Legislators from all over Maine were invited to spend time in their districts learning about the incredible resources we have for folks in our communities.

In York County, I was joined by state Sen. Henry Ingwersen and House members Reps. Holly Sargent, Gerry Runte and Dan Hobbs to spend the day with staff from Maine Behavioral Health at Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford, Sweetser’s Eslie J. Parquette School in Saco, Maine Health’s peer support groups for adults in Biddeford and the behavioral health team at Spurwink in Biddeford. Collectively, these organizations provide services for thousands of children and adults throughout York County.

We started our day at Southern Maine Medical Center. After learning about the numbers of children awaiting critically needed care, we then had the sobering experience of touring their four-bed psychiatric unit, where children as young as 5 and 8 stay alongside adults while they wait for appropriate care. Often, these children wait weeks or longer, and sadly, far too many are placed out of state.

We then went to Sweetser’s Eslie J. Parquette School, where students struggling with social, emotional and academic challenges receive support and the best chance for successful learning. We saw their working farm and heard success stories from adults who graduated from this school years ago.


Next, we dropped in to Maine Health’s Peer Support Center in Biddeford, where we had an opportunity to meet adults who have a place to gather and get support for mental health wellness through structured groups and educational activities. These peer support opportunities are so important for adults on the road to recovery.

We concluded our tour at Spurwink in Biddeford, where we met with their dedicated staff who shared with us their myriad prevention-based services for both children and adults. Special emphasis was placed on refugees who have fled from war-torn countries, which brings a unique set of circumstances with required care. These services are evidenced-based, trauma-informed and successful for folks in need.

Our mental health system in Maine is beyond fractured. Having these opportunities to elevate this important work is but one step toward ensuring that anyone who needs care can and will get the services they need and deserve. I promise to continue my work in the Legislature to do just that!

For more information about services in York County, you can reach the following organizations:




Rep. Lori K. Gramlich is a licensed master social worker, serving her third term representing Old Orchard Beach in the Maine House of Representatives. She serves as House chair of the Legislature’s Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, has a public health background and is a lifelong advocate for children and adult mental health care.

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