Eric Meyer’s Testimony for the Health and Human Services Committee
January 30, 2020
LD 1937 – An Act To Provide Timely Access to Behavioral Health Services for Maine Children and To Address Trauma and the Impacts of the Opioid Crisis,
My name is Eric Meyer, President & CEO, Spurwink Services. I am here to urge you to support LD 1937. At Spurwink, we provide behavioral health and educational services to children, adults, and families across Maine. Last year, we served over 8,100 Maine people affected by trauma, mental health challenges, addiction, developmental disabilities and autism, so they can live healthy, engaged lives in their communities. Here in Maine, that vision is in jeopardy.
LD 1937 will provide critically needed MaineCare rate increases for children’s residential programs and Home and Community Based Treatment (HCT) services. These important behavioral health services for children are themselves in crisis and need your help. Most of you know me and have heard me speak in prior sessions about the need for improved MaineCare reimbursement rates. I think you also know that I am thoughtful and measured in my testimony about these issues.
Today the challenge we face has reached an extreme level. Even an organization as large and capable as Spurwink has reached a breaking point. It has been a decade since child residential treatment rates were increased. Because of that we are unable to hire staff necessary to bring children into our residential programs. Today we are serving 81 children in residential care. We have 20 unoccupied beds that we cannot admit children to, because of lack of staffing. We cannot open a newly renovated 8 bed facility due to inability to hire staff. At the same time, and sadly, the demand for children’s residential care has never been higher. Referrals of children to these programs has doubled over the last few years, to 217 this past year. Today, many children in extreme need cannot access this service. As a result, many wait in hospitals, emergency rooms, are homeless, in juvenile corrections or are in out of state residential programs. Youth are often detained at Longcreek too long. The current Juvenile Justice System Assessment Taskforce found that “73% of detention stays over 30 days were for youth awaiting placement or community-based programming” and that the system needed “reimbursement rates for mental health services sufficient to sustain programs and retain staff”.
LD1937 also increases MaineCare rates for Home and Community Based Treatment services (known as HCT). This is a very important home treatment service that can help prevent the need for children to be in hospital or residential care. It is also a very important service for helping children to return home successfully from out of home placement. Home and Community Based Treatment services have not received a rate increase since the minimum wage was under $6 an hour. The low rates have made hiring staff for this service extremely difficult. Spurwink and other providers have actually closed their HCT programs as a result. The wait list today for this service across Maine is over 490 children. The continuing Opioid Crisis has impacted the need for care by increasing the number of children facing traumatic situations and substance misuse.
The children we serve and the system to support them is in crisis. We need your help. Thank you for considering these important issues.