Mental health consumers sought for panels

Posted Oct. 22, 2008, at 9:27 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — People with mental disorders often know more about the services they need than bureaucrats and policymakers in Augusta, a consumer advocate said Wednesday.

That’s why they should consider serving in a new program designed to bring their ideas directly to those who make decisions about those services, the advocate said.

“There’s been a lot of disappointment for some of you in the past. Sometimes you feel like nobody listens, nobody cares. That’s why we’re here — trying to get your voices heard by the people in power,” said Vickie McCarty of Cherryfield, an outreach coordinator for the evolving Consumer Council System of Maine.

“We all realize that we are the experts on our services,” McCarty said, speaking at the Bangor Motor Inn to a small audience of northern Maine residents who use mental health services. “We need to tell the people in Augusta what services we need, what services work and what services don’t work.”

The Consumer Council System of Maine was formally established earlier this year by an act of the state Legislature, but it has existed on paper, as an addendum to the 1998 AMHI consent agreement, since 2006. The consent agreement represents the interests of all real and potential patients of the now-defunct Augusta Mental Health Institute and continues to shape the quality and availability of mental health services in Maine.

The Consumer Council System of Maine is charged with providing a direct voice in Augusta to all consumers of mental health services throughout the state. The organization’s goal is to create a two-level system of consumer representation, McCarty explained — a broad network of local, community-based groups and a state-level panel drawn from those local groups.

At the local level, nine fledgling groups have been formed in communities from Caribou to Biddeford, with more expected to form as time goes on. Some local councils have elected representatives to serve at the state level, but more are needed.

The Statewide Consumer Council meets monthly in Augusta to define problems in the mental health services system, and to provide guidance to policymakers within the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Wednesday’s meeting brought together local group members and leaders from Aroostook, Hancock, Washington, Penobscot and Piscataquis counties — Region 3 of the consumer council system.

McCarty encouraged those in attendance to consider serving on the state panel. Qualifications include:

ä The ability to self-identify as a person with mental illness.

• A history of having received mental health services.

• The ability to read and write.

• The ability to communicate effectively verbally and in writing.

Elaine Ecker, newly named executive director of the Consumer Council System of Maine, said most of those participating in the local and state-level groups are enrolled in MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income and disabled individuals. As the largest payer of mental health services in the state, DHHS, which administers the state- and federally funded MaineCare program, “sets the tone and sets the standard” for all mental health services, she said.

But there are many Mainers whose mental health services are paid by private insurance policies or out of pocket, Ecker added, whose input would be valuable on the council and whose participation she seeks.

More about the Consumer Council System of Maine, including local meeting information, is available online at www.maineccsm.org. Region 3 outreach coordinator Vickie McCarty may by reached at region3@maineccsm.org or by phone at 687-6033.

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