BANGOR, Maine — Manna Ministries announced it is closing its two faith-based substance abuse treatment programs next month because of declining revenue in the wake of revelations of mismanagement on the part of the social service organization.
Bill Rae, Manna’s executive director, described the decision to close the addiction treatment programs as a “heartbreaking” but necessary step in order to continue to feed the community’s needy.
“It ripped my heart out,” Rae said Monday, sitting at his desk in Manna’s building on Main Street. “I love these people. I was an addict, and I know it saved me.”
The closures affect 14 clients enrolled in the drug and alcohol treatment programs and 13 employees who provide counseling and support services, Rae said.
“Due to decreasing state funding and declining financial support as a result of recent negative media coverage, it is with great sorrow that we find we must close our faith-based drug and alcohol programs, Elijah’s House and Derek House, on June 15,” Rae said in a post on the nonprofit corporation’s Facebook page dated May 19. “We simply do not have the means to underwrite these costly life-saving programs.”
Rae said he informed the Department of Health and Human Services of the impending closures in writing on May 11.
“Our major concern is making sure the clients currently receiving treatment are able to either transition to another provider or finish their current treatment plan,” DHHS spokeswoman Samantha Edwards said in a Monday email. “Members of the department continue to work closely with Mr. Rae and other providers to help with a transition plan.”
At this point, all current clients have a plan in place, she said.
DHHS personnel are expected to arrive daily for the next month to help Elijah or Derek House residents transition into new programs.
“They’re going to be here every single week until we’re done,” Rae said, adding the state employees also are tasked with “dotting the ‘i’s’ and crossing all the ‘t’s’” with Manna’s transition back into a food pantry and distribution center.
He wrote in the post that Manna’s tax-exempt status, which it lost for nearly a year because it failed to file IRS forms for three straight years, is intact and its licenses and certificates are in order.
“We’ve redone my responsibilities … and reconfigured the board [of directors],” he said of recent changes at Manna.
Manna owes the state $1.3 million for mismanaging an addiction recovery clinic it operated in Medway and for Medicaid reimbursement overpayments it received, according to DHHS.
“We’re working this all out with DHHS,” Rae said Monday of the money owed. “They’re not stressing about it.”
Edwards said the state is willing to cut Manna a break if the agency agrees to a payment plan. As it stands, DHHS is garnishing MaineCare payments Manna receives — called offsets — to address the debt.
“Regardless of how Manna chooses to operate going forward, the department will continue to seek collection of overpayments to Manna that are due to be returned to Maine taxpayers,” the DHHS spokeswoman said. “Prior to the department’s initiation of payment offsets, Manna’s debt to the Maine taxpayer remained unpaid with the potential of growing larger with each weekly MaineCare cycle payment. The department has communicated to Manna its willingness to reduce or suspend MaineCare offsets, were Manna to agree to structure a repayment program with DHHS, such as numerous other providers have over the past eight months.”
Since September 2014, DHHS has established 166 similar repayment plans with provider agencies, Edwards said.
Manna’s debt stems in large part from a Medway clinic that closed in 2013 after errors in paperwork and records were uncovered. The debt comes in two areas, a $499,000 penalty for a Program Integrity violation, and $825,246 from Manna being overpaid for MaineCare reimbursements.
The Bangor Daily News later discovered Manna failed to file documents with the state required to maintain its status as a corporation and former members of its board of directors were still listed on state paperwork despite having left the board months or years ago. Manna since has corrected those errors, according to the state.
Manna lost its federal 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization effective November 2013 because it had failed to file Form 990s for three straight years, according to an IRS document obtained by the BDN. It regained its tax-exempt status in October 2014, the document showed.
The loss of two rehabilitation options in Bangor affects a region that has been coping with the rampant spread of opiate abuse in recent years. People who enter the programs live at Manna during their nine-month or 45-day stay. They have their own room, participate in group meetings and activities, go to church and meet regularly with counselors who guide them through their recovery.
Rae said he struggled with methamphetamine addiction many years ago, and a faith-based rescue mission in Portland, Oregon, helped him regain sobriety. He and his now deceased wife, Ann, started Manna 26 years ago this month as a downtown food pantry, he said.
Twelve years ago, Manna started Derek House, a nine-month residential rehab program, and Elijah House, a 45-day program. They focus on faith-based rehabilitation and counseling, and do not offer Suboxone, methadone or other forms of drug replacement therapy.
“There is no place like it, with licensed counselors, in the state of Maine,” Rae said.
Manna’s headquarters — a historic four-story brick building at 629 Main St. that has served in the past as Beal College, an orphanage, asylum, farm and debtors prison — is up for sale and has been for about three years. Rae mentioned in his post that a smaller facility would keep the costs down.
Rae said in the wake of the decreasing revenue and donations, cuts had to be made.
“The soup kitchen, food pantry, clothing ministry and The Home Thrift Store will remain open,” Rae said in the post. “We plan to expand our reach in feeding the poor, since hunger is also an ever increasing problem in our state. Our facility is for sale and our prospects are good.”
BDN writer Nick McCrea contributed to this report.