BANGOR, Maine — The first meeting of the full Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center advisory committee started with a bit of good — albeit tempered — news Thursday afternoon.
“… I discovered that the state [Legislature’s] Appropriations Committee unanimously voted to go forward with the budget they’d come up with, which means the proposal to close the facility isn’t part of that budget,” said Nelson Durgin, a Bangor councilor and committee member.
But that also means the $2.5 million in cuts to the Dix center that are part of that budget likely will be approved, and that means potential staffing cuts.
“That basically gives us more time, another six months or so, to build a case for keeping the center open and find ways to better utilize the 110,000 square feet of space which is currently not being used,” said Joe Baldacci, also a Bangor councilor and committee member.
Members of the committee spent Thursday’s meeting coming up with ideas and proposals to use that space to provide treatment and generate revenue in an effort to forestall further talk of closing the center.
“Ideally, we’d like to come up with alternate but compatible uses for that space, perhaps as a step-up or step-down facility as a housing option,” said Shawn Yardley, Bangor’s director of health and community services. “There are all kinds of possibilities targeting the population that would already be accessing mental health services. This would give them options to have more intensive treatment, but also be a step away at the same time.”
The Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center has undergone a drastic reduction in scope of services and residency the last 30 years.
“Back in the 1960s, they were overburdened with 1,100 people in there, but when they were relicensed in the ’70s, their services were increased,” said Durgin. “Back then there was a better network for facilitating services. That network is still out there, but we need to reconnect it.”
Dix, which Baldacci said has served 350 patients a year on average and covers 60 percent of the state geographically, is licensed for 100 beds but only maintained 65 last year. The center is now down to 51 beds.
Committee member Dale Hamilton, executive director of Community Health and Counseling Services, said people need to alter their view of the Dix center.
“This has been defined as a problem, but it’s actually a resource,” Hamilton said. “Let’s define what the real problem is and show how the Dorothea Dix center can be a solution.”
Committee members agreed to all write letters of support for the center to be sent to state representatives and senators, as well as Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew. Baldacci is hopeful Mayhew will accept an invitation to meet with committee representatives.
The committee will meet again at 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, in the Bangor City Council chambers.