January 22, 2020
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Sweetser to close Brunswick mental health facility, blames DHHS for lack of funding

BRUNSWICK, Maine — A Brunswick facility where adults with behavioral health problems seek treatment and camaraderie will close next month, the organization Sweetser announced on Wednesday.

Sweetser officials blamed the imminent closure of its Learning and Recovery Center on a lack of additional funding from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Department officials countered that they couldn’t justify spending more on the facility, in part, without seeking competing bids for the services Sweetser provides at the site.

“The services of the peer center have brought hope and healing to thousands,” Cindy Fagan, Sweetser’s vice president of programs, said in a statement. “We’ve been working diligently to try and save this service but the state hasn’t engaged with us to find a solution. Closing the peer center will break hearts and spirits.”

John Martins, spokesman for DHHS, said in a statement that his agency took part in “a number of conversations … over the past several months” with Sweetser about the center.

Sweetser spokeswoman Stephanie Hanner said her organization initially agreed to pay $40,000 annually to operate the center when it opened 12 years ago, while the state paid $200,000 per year in recurring grant money.

Over the years, Hanner said, the cost to run the center increased, but while Sweetser has more than doubled its yearly contribution to more than $90,000, the state’s contribution has remained flat.

When Sweetser officials told DHHS leaders the nonprofit could no longer sustain the annual increases and would have to close the facility without additional grant funding from the state, the department declined the request for more money, Hanner said.

“They were willing to continue the contract as it had been over the past decade-plus, but not help us with this increased cost that we’ve been incurring,” she said.

Martins said Sweetser officials told DHHS they wanted to “revamp this program and provide different types of services,” which complicated the issue from the state’s perspective.

“The department cannot justify providing additional funding to a program that was under spending in its current contract by more than $40,000, and will not approve a change in the scope of work — as defined in the existing contract — without engaging in a competitive bidding process,” he said in a statement.

“We will be working to transition those who are currently participating in these peer support programs over the next several months in an attempt to minimize the impact and disruption of support,” Martins continued.

In an organization announcement Wednesday, Sweetser stated the center, located on Mere Point Road, has served more than 11,000 clients in its 12 years.

The center’s associated four-bed “respite service offered the only peer-run and managed respite opportunity in Maine, allowing many struggling with a mental health crisis an alternative to hospitalization,” according to Sweetser’s announcement.

The center will close on June 30, according to the announcement.


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