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To avoid closing its doors, Tri-County Mental Health Services in Lewiston seeks acquisition

Signs rest on flowers that read "to my city" and "Lewiston."
Raquel C. Zaldívar
New England News Collaborative
Signs rest on flowers that read "to my city" and "Lewiston," days after the mass shooting that killed 18 people.

Facing a fiscal crisis, Tri-County Mental Health Services in Lewiston is asking to be acquired to avoid closing its doors.

Tri-County CEO Catherine Ryder says that the 75-year old organization, which provides mental health and substance misuse services, has faced a number of challenges, including the loss of half of its staff during the pandemic. At the same time, Ryder says, Tri-County had expenses tied to several buildings. And she says the organization applied two years in a row for million-dollar federal grants, but didn't receive them.

"You know, we did our best to stay on top of the wave, and it was very, very, very clear at the end of last year that we needed to make a very significant decision very quickly," she says.

Ryder says the organization is facing a deficit of more than a half a million dollars. She says in January she reached out to the behavioral health services non-profit Spurwink to see if it would acquire Tri-County, which serves roughly 2,000 clients, including people affected by the Lewiston mass shootings. Spurwink president and CEO Eric Meyer says the two organizations have similar missions and services.

"We do feel an incredible obligation to ensure that services are not interrupted," he says.

But Meyer says acquiring Tri-County would cost Spurwink $2 million in administrative fees and outstanding bills, which it can't absorb. He asked the legislature's appropriations committee last week for a one time payment to cover those costs.

As he waits a decision, Meyer says Spurwink will continue to pursue acquiring Tri-County by April 1. He says nearly all of the 185 Tri-County staff would become Spurwink employees, and roughly 20 of those workers would need to apply for other jobs within the organization. If successful, Meyer says, he believes the acquisition will put Spurwink it in a better position to address future mental health needs in Maine.

"If not the next pandemic, the next kind of whatever it is that comes our way," he says. "We all know that there will be those challenges."

Ryder says it could also help reduce Tri-County Mental Health Services' current waitlist of roughly 2,000 people.

"It is a way to breathe life back into a lot of the things we've been struggling with because we've been so cash restricted," she says.

Ryder says if the acquisition goes through, it will be a good ending to Tri-County's story.