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Mental-Health Summit to Raise Awareness of Challenges in Maine System

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021   

AUGUSTA, Maine -- Advocates for access to mental-health services are holding a Behavioral Health Summit today at the Augusta Civic Center. They are hoping to raise awareness about the existing challenges in Maine's behavioral health system -- from staffing shortages to funding gaps -- as a historic amount of money is set to be infused into community mental-health and substance-use services.

John Hennessy, lobbyist for the Behavioral Health Community Collaborative and coordinator of the event, said it is the right time to discuss how best to use the funding to address the needs of Mainers.

"Given 20 months of dealing with COVID and even pre-COVID, the system was precarious in terms of how it was funded, and the sustainability of that funding," Hennessy explained. "We're just trying to bring everyday voices to the public and talk about the issues."

Maine recently upped the reimbursement rates for providers of mental-health and substance-use services, and funding is on the way from COVID relief bills and the American Rescue Plan. But some providers still are shut down, because they have not been able to retain staff to bill under the new rates.

Leaders of the summit say the consequences of staffing shortages and wait lists are severe. When services are not available to residents, it can lead to improper use of incarceration, overfilled emergency rooms and even death.

Hennessy noted a panel of lawmakers at the summit will discuss why some promising legislation does not always make it through at the State House.

"A lot of the problem around community mental-health services is there's still a stigma attached to talking about the services, and we're trying to eradicate that," Hennessy pointed out. "We're trying to bring the stories of real people in real time to the public's awareness."

In addition to being in-person, today's summit is live-streamed on Facebook.

Last month the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children's Hospital Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry together wrote a declaration, saying there is a children's mental-health national emergency. They represent more than 77,000 doctors and more than 200 hospitals.


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