BANGOR, Maine — A proposal being developed by the Bangor Housing Authority and Bangor city officials with help from a national nonprofit group aims to rehabilitate the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center to provide housing options for those who don’t need full hospital care.
They want to develop a plan to renovate the unused space at the Dix center, which the state has targeted for downsizing, and turn it into a mix of transitional and permanent affordable housing for patients and clients requiring care but not intensive hospitalization.
Representatives of the three entities are teaming up to write a proposal on how best to renovate and use one of Maine’s two psychiatric facilities and present it to Maine’s Bureau of General Services and the governor’s office in about 30 days.
“There’s over 100,000 square feet of unused space in the facility that continues to be heated and maintained, so if we can take some of that property offline from the state, transfer the ownership to a local housing developer or nonprofit, that would help address two issues,” said Mike Myatt, executive director of Bangor Housing Authority. “The state has a surplus of unused space and there’s currently a pronounced need for assisted living and permanent housing for patients or hospital service users.”
Myatt is working in concert with members of Volunteers of America, a national nonprofit organization that helps develop and provide affordable housing, and city officials including Bangor City Councilors Joe Baldacci and Nelson Durgin and Bangor Health and Community Services Director Shawn Yardley.
“There are so many people in the hospital who are chronically homeless and need a place to stay,” said Myatt. “If we can find a place to put these people at a cost of $700 a month versus $700 a day, why would you not want to do that?”
The state has asked for a two- or three-page general proposal for utilizing 60,000-70,000 square feet of unused space at Dix while continuing the center’s current psychiatric services.
“The other major concern we discussed is keeping the hospital open in some significant capacity to make this housing concept make sense,” said Myatt. “If you want to put new housing near services, the builder of that housing wants to be sure the services remain available.”
Baldacci said state officials are very interested in working with the Dix coalition.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew “ has endorsed our idea,” said Baldacci. “It could be kind of a multiuse approach with transitional housing as well as permanent.”
Whatever the final blueprint involves, Baldacci said it will be an involved process.
“We have to get approval from the governor and the Legislature, and we have legal hurdles we’ll have to jump through,” he said.
Baldacci said Myatt, who is taking a lead role in the proposal with the city acting as a facilitator, is starting consultations with lawyers experienced in the area of setting up condominiums and other types of housing in Portland.
“Also, there are financing issues, which could work in our favor because it’s on the National Register of Historic Places, so there may be tax credits available,” Baldacci said, referring to the Dix center.
Myatt said the state would realize a dual benefit from the plan: It would save money both by no longer having to pay to maintain the unused space with heat and electricity and by not having to provide services to people who don’t require emergency services in hospital and emergency rooms.
“It makes sense from a lot of different angles,” said Baldacci. “We have a woman from St. Joseph’s on our [Dorothea Dix] committee who told us they’ve had three or four people at their ER who should be at a facility like Dix, but they have nowhere else to put them.
“ And with Riverview [Psychiatric Center in Augusta] not taking any more patients, Dorothea Dix is now the [psychiatric] hospital for the entire state.”
Myatt said it comes down to four key questions.
“Is there a need? Yes. Is there real estate available? Yes,” he said. “So that leaves where would the funding come from, and logistically how do you do it? The challenge will be finding the right funding for the project and figuring out the best long-term plan for the campus.”