BANGOR, Maine — What has been a broad concept that was more vague than certain has became a lot more specific as the Bangor City Council’s Dorothea Dix advisory committee puts the final touches on a written proposal to the State of Maine.
After almost a dozen meetings over nine months, things are coalescing in the effort to keep one of Maine’s two public psychiatric facilities open and operating.
The proposal, which should be delivered to Don McCormack, the director of Maine’s Bureau of General Services, early next week, outlines the committee’s plan for the redevelopment and reuse of the 111-year-old facility which used to be known as Bangor Mental Health Institute.
“It shouldn’t take that long for approval,” said Joe Baldacci, a Bangor city councilor and member of the ad hoc Dorothea Dix committee. “They’ve met with us several times, they want us to make a proposal, and they’ve told other people they have to deal with this committee first.”
The committee’s goal is to partner the City of Bangor with Bangor Housing Authority as lead agency and developer, respectively, to redevelop the embattled Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center as a mixed-use facility.
“I think it’s probably going to be that approach because it would be easier to fill that way, and a lot more nonprofits could come together to be involved,” said Baldacci. “That means we have to set up a different legal entity that would control the property.”
To that end, the written proposal asks for legislative approval for the Bureau of General Services to enter into negotiations with Bangor and the Bangor Housing Authority to reuse the center’s considerable space.
“Volunteers of America has talked about doing a program to help senior citizens with transportation, assistance, or simply checking in on them,” said Baldacci. “Bangor Housing has taken a lead role with this because they have a separate development agency and can do this as a nonprofit and take advantage of public and private grants.”
Fellow Bangor councilor and committee member Nelson Durgin said the joint effort and cooperation by both public- and private-sector organizations in this effort has been impressive.
“I think the big thing here is we’ve got the private, nonprofit providers in the community like the hospitals, Penobscot CHC, Community Health and Counseling, the state, and Penobscot Aroostook and Piscataquis county officials and organizations behind this,” Durgin said.
The committee hopes to get the state to commit to a long-term plan for residential psychiatric treatment services in central and northern Maine.
“Part of the proposal in terms of saving money for the hospital is to take over some of the overhead for the building, but also to get people out of acute care sooner,” Baldacci explained.
Durgin and other members of the committee agree that the Dix Center can serve a great need that exists in a significant geographic portion of the state.
Durgin said it is an ideal facility for people requiring services that jails, hospitals, substance abuse and homeless facilities can’t provide, and at a much lower cost.
“What we’re looking at is some type of facility for which people who don’t need to be hospitalized but need a living arrangement can go,” said Durgin. “This would greatly decrease the cost of housing and caring for people that don’t need to be in a hospital emergency room, for example.”