BANGOR, Maine — City councilors Wednesday night paved the way for t he creation of a regional committee that will lead the charge to keep Bangor’s Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center open.
The panel, which will have 13 members from throughout northern and eastern Maine, will be charged with developing a legislative strategy for dealing with the Bangor hospital’s potential closure or cutback in services. A council order establishing the committee was approved in a 7-0 vote during a meeting at City Hall.
Shawn Yardley, the city’s director of health and community services, will serve as an ex-officio, nonvoting member.
During a workshop preceding Wednesday night’s council meeting, Yardley said that he already has started reaching out to representatives of the constituencies that would be affected if Dorothea Dix closed.
Among those he is consulting are mental health and medical professionals, law enforcement and other public safety officials, people who work with the homeless and leaders of faith-based social service groups.
Dorothea Dix is one of two state-run psychiatric hospitals in Maine and it serves a five- or six-county area, Yardley said. The other facility is Riverview Psychiatric Hospital in Augusta, the only forensic psychiatric facility in the state.
During previous meetings on the issue, councilors have pointed out that the closure of Dorothea Dix would be devastating to the entire region and increase the burden on emergency response services in Bangor and beyond.
Earlier this month, Yardley said the region would face more costs from the closure of the center than the short-term monetary savings it would realize. Consequences would include a lack of services for those who are or could become dangers to themselves and others if left untreated.
He said the closure could mean about 1,000 people being “put back in that cycle” of being on their own without proper treatment.
On Wednesday, Yardley noted that despite having two state-run psychiatric hospitals, the needs of some of Maine’s chronically ill residents are going unmet.
To reinforce that point, Yardley recounted a discussion with a northern Maine official who said that when no spaces are open at the Bangor psychiatric hospital people with mental illnesses sometimes are chained to their hospital beds until a space becomes available.
Members of the Dorothea Dix committee will be selected by the City Council’s Government Operations Committee, chaired by Councilor Susan Hawes. Council members were asked to submit the names of potential members to Hawes or Yardley by Friday. Appointments could be made by as early as next week.