$6.1 million awarded to two mental health organizations in Maine

Bangor and Sweetser Community Health and Counseling Services will use the money to develop certified community behavioral health clinics to expand services.

BANGOR, Maine – Two Maine organizations have received more than $6.1 million to help meet the growing demand and need for mental health and addiction treatment services. The money comes from the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as the pandemic continues to affect millions of lives across the country.

The Maine organizations receiving these awards are Bangor and Sweetser Community Health and Counseling Services, based in Saco and also serving the Mid-Coast. CHCS received over $3.2 million and Sweetser received over $2.9 million. This money will be used to help the two providers set up a certified community behavioral health clinic – the first two in Maine. These clinics are designed to foster partnerships between a number of healthcare providers to ensure that patients can get treatment when and where they need it.

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“What we want to do is make sure that when someone walks through a door in this community who needs mental health services, needs addiction services, that they’re connected, that they don’t don’t have to do more work trying to find a resource,” said Dale Hamilton, CEO of CHCS.

“For us, if you’re able to help one person — certainly, we want to accomplish by helping many others — but for that person, it could mean so much to them and their family,” Rose St. Louis, CHCS chief operating officer, noted.

Hamilton says CHCS is designed to bring its services to people, so the CCBHC model will come in handy to ensure there is no “wrong door” for treatment. The CCHS will be in partnership with:

  • Maine DHHS Office of Behavioral Health
  • Maine DHHS Office of Child and Family Services
  • Northern Light Acadia Hospital
  • Penobscot Community Health Care
  • Penquis
  • Saint Joseph Health Care
  • Source
  • Wings for children and families

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Sweetser will also establish a CCBHC with the money, to help expand services to Sagadahoc, northern coastal Cumberland County, and parts of Lincoln and Androscoggin counties. Sweetser’s chief medical officer, Marc Kaplan, said the organization will be responsible for filing reports on the effectiveness of these partnerships — with the aim of continuing after the pandemic and growing.

“It gives us time to develop partnership systems that will eventually be sustainable,” Kaplan said of the grant.

Sweetser is still working to solidify partnerships, but existing partners who use their services include:

  • Lincoln Medical Partners
  • Point Martin
  • Mid Coast Hospital
  • Mid Coast Primary Care Center
  • Lewiston Pediatric Associates
  • Pen Bay Medical Center
  • Wiscasset Family Health

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This $6.1 million award is part of a larger SAMHSA initiative to build more than 100 CCBHCs across the country. The grants come from $4.5 billion allocated to SAMHSA under the COVID-19 relief package passed in December. Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) announced the money for Maine a few weeks ago. Collins says it is “desperately needed”.

“The pandemic has made us more aware that isolation and loneliness can lead to mental health issues and addiction issues,” Collins said. She says mental health is a bipartisan issue – and she’s pushing for the money available now to be given to agencies as soon as possible.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re Democrat, Independent, Green or Republican – this is an issue that affects all of our families, our peers, our friends,” Collins said.

King also thinks it’s a problem that will persist, even after the pandemic, calling addiction, suicide and depression “diseases of despair”.

“The pandemic has, I think, underscored how important that is,” King noted. “It’s not going to go away. These issues aren’t going to go away when the pandemic goes away.”

King says there’s a roughly 30-to-1 disproportion when it comes to funding research into physical illnesses and research into mental health. He says he hopes to see more treatment options and more research opportunities in the future.

“The key is to get the service to the people on the ground where they need it,” King explained.

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