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Workforce Shortage Still Limits Some Substance-Use Treatment Providers

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Thursday, November 11, 2021   

PORTLAND, Maine -- Maine's providers of substance-abuse treatment and some other behavioral-health services are seeing a major increase in reimbursement rates going into effect this month.

But advocates for mental-health support say many agencies are facing major workforce shortages and other crises that prevent them from billing at all with the new rates.

Oliver Bradeen is executive director of Milestone Recovery, a nonprofit helping people facing homelessness and addiction. It's one of the few medically monitored withdrawal centers in Maine, often known as detox centers.

"Even with the increased rates, we're still struggling with workforce, and I know that's a common theme with the added level of COVID being a challenge," Bradeen explained. "There's just such a nursing shortage that it's hard to attract new talent from the nursing field."

He said their detox is currently closed because of those staffing shortages. He added while the improved rates are a step in the right direction, it could take time for providers who've been struggling to use them.

Malory Shaughnessy, executive director of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services, said the increase in demand during the pandemic, combined with the severe impacts on the workforce, are putting a huge strain on providers, and waitlists for services are growing daily.

She emphasized it is important the Department of Health and Human Services invest more of the federal relief funding into these services now, as well as begin the proposed regular review of MaineCare's reimbursement rates.

"It's all going to be really good for the system of care," Shaughnessy projected. "But the current reality of many agencies is the situation is pretty raw. And it needs some direct infusion of resources and support right now."

Jeff Tiner, chief program officer for clinical services at Catholic Charities Maine, said putting more funds toward substance-abuse treatment is the right thing to do to support Mainers, and saves taxpayer money on emergency services and the criminal-justice system.

Data shows nationally, more than 85% of the prison population either has a substance-use disorder or were incarcerated for something involving drugs or drug use.

"We see the overdose rates that have increased exponentially," Tiner observed. "I don't think there's anyone in my world that has not been affected pretty close to home for those losses. Investment in prevention and support and recovery is really well worth it, and is a smart as well as compassionate."

Disclosure: Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services contributes to our fund for reporting on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, and Mental Health. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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