The BDN reported on Sept. 8 that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services has refused the final three years of a $1 million-per-year five year federal Healthy Transitions-Now’s The Time grant. This grant was focused on helping young people ages 15 to 25 who have been diagnosed with severe mental health conditions or are at risk of developing one. The action by DHHS has saved Maine taxpayers no money, but it has, unfortunately, severely threatened two innovative and crucial mental health services that target some of our most vulnerable youth.
As the BDN article ably pointed out, the Healthy Transitions-Now’s The Time grant supported two pilot programs: the Transition to Independence Process model of case management and the Portland Identification and Early Referral program for prevention and treatment of first episode psychotic illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and so on. The Transition to Independence Process model is designed to help youth who have struggled with mental illness for many years make a successful and productive transition to adulthood. The Portland Identification and Early Referral program is the Maine implementation of a national, evidence-based effort to treat young people who are just beginning to experience severe mental illness before their illness can be complicated by disability, substance abuse and homelessness.
On Sept. 9, DHHS issued a response stating that the final three years of grant funding weren’t needed and that services “can continue uninterrupted by folding them into current state spending within the Mental Health Block Grant, Medicaid program and other funding sources.” This statement is hard to understand. Were not the block grant funds already committed to other programs? Does DHHS believe that the additional training, outcome measurement and measurement of treatment model fidelity can be supported by current MaineCare services and rates? What other funding sources is DHHS considering?
The Healthy Transitions-Now’s The Time supported programs were told on Aug. 23 that federal funding support would end Sept. 30. According to the statement from DHHS, mental health advocates and concerned citizens should be able to contact the Healthy Transitions-Now’s The Time supported programs in mid-October and find that they are delivering their crucial services to some of Maine’s most vulnerable young people without interruption.
All concerned mental health advocates must follow up on this DHHS pledge. If DHHS is not able to continue these programs with alternative models of funding, then the decision to refuse the final three years of federal funding would prove to have been a needlessly destructive blow to mental health services for some of our most vulnerable fellow residents. We in Maine must ensure these crucial services are continued and expanded to reach all who need them.
Lindsey Tweed is president of the Maine Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.