Nearly four months after the state lost two-thirds of its capacity to temporarily house adults with intellectual disabilities experiencing behavioral crises that put them and others in danger, Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services has yet to act to restore the lost crisis beds.
When people with intellectual disabilities become violent or agitated — and a threat to themselves and those who live with and care for them — they are supposed to have the opportunity to stay temporarily in a crisis home and receive help as they calm down and prepare to return to their living situation or find a new one.
Under state law, Maine DHHS is required to “maintain an adequate capacity” of safe, backup locations with trained personnel where adults with intellectual disabilities can go when experiencing crises. The crisis bed capacity is part of a range of crisis support services that people with intellectual disabilities are supposed to have access to under state law, including a 24-hour crisis hotline run by the state and wellness checks to prevent future crisis situations.
Some 5,500 to 6,000 people in Maine have the right to such services statewide, Richard Estabrook, who served as chief advocate in Maine DHHS’ Office of Advocacy from 1985 to 2012, told the BDN earlier this year.
The state runs four crisis homes with two beds each that are staffed by state employees and spread around the state. Traditionally, DHHS has contracted with a private agency to provide the remaining crisis bed capacity.
Until June 30, Employment Specialists of Maine, an Augusta organization that offers residential and employment programs for people with disabilities, held a contract with the state through which it provided 16 crisis beds where people with disabilities could be transferred temporarily in crisis situations.
Employment Specialists of Maine, or ESM, had indicated in December 2016 that it didn’t intend to renew the contract with the state after its June 30 end. Despite the advance notice, the state had no vendor lined up to take ESM’s place when the contract ended, and the state still has no contractor lined up to provide private crisis beds and staff them.
The state hasn’t yet issued a request for proposals seeking private crisis bed providers, according to service providers who work with people with disabilities and a review of the state’s website that catalogs requests for proposals.
In response to a question about the crisis bed situation from the BDN, Maine DHHS spokeswoman Emily Spencer wrote in an email, “We do not have privately run crisis beds.”
Spencer didn’t respond to follow-up questions about DHHS’ plans for restoring the state’s crisis bed capacity.
“We have been watching for a crisis contract to come. If an RFP comes out, we will absolutely respond to it,” said Beth Sullivan, state director for Granite Bay Care, a Portland-based service provider that operates group homes around Greater Portland. “We definitely see it as a huge need in the state of Maine. As soon as the state of Maine is ready and willing to make that commitment, we’ll throw our names in the ring.”
For now, with only the state-run crisis beds available, group home operators’ options are limited when their residents experience personal crises. With no other crisis options, some have previously told the BDN, people with intellectual disabilities are more frequently ending up in hospital emergency rooms.