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A Maine mental health provider says it's reducing services at 18 school districts

In this Feb. 24, 2022, file photo, the sign that marks the entrance to the Sweetser residential facility in Belfast.
Abigail Curtis
In this Feb. 24, 2022, file photo, the sign that marks the entrance to the Sweetser residential facility in Belfast.

The mental health provider Sweetser said it's reducing services across 18 school districts because of budget challenges.

Sweetser currently offers school-based mental health clinics in more than 100 schools. But in recent months, the nonprofit has warned that reimbursement isn't keeping up with the cost to provide the programs, leading to a deficit this fiscal year of $1.5 million.

Lawmakers took up a bill during the latest legislative session that would have provided grants for school-based services. While the measure initially passed both the Maine House and Senate, it never received final passage during the chaotic final few days of the session.

Sweetser CEO Jayne Van Bramer said without that funding, the organization has been forced to make tough decisions.

"In terms of everything, from not filling vacancies, to consolidating services, to in some cases, reducing services," Van Bramer said.

Van Bramer said that students will suffer without those services, as she said the school-based nature of the clinics allows providers to more easily connect and coordinate services with families, teachers, administrators and guidance counselors.

"Our plan is to go back to the legislature in January, and to present another bill that will be more enduring," Van Bramer said. "But we do need the help of the legislature. We cannot do this alone. We need we do believe that they understand the importance of this program and the difference it makes. But we need that action to match that understanding we need to get something pushed through in January, or we're gonna have to revisit it again."

Van Bramer said the nonprofit isn't laying off any workers and is instead offering to move some school-based clinicians to vacant positions in other parts of the organization.