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Maine Lawmakers Consider Bill That Would Shift Mental Health Funds To Crisis Intervention Programs

The Maine Legislature is considering a measure that would bolster funding for mental health crisis intervention programs. The proposal before the Health and Human Services Committee would redirect funds that had been dedicated to build four new mental health centers.Lawmakers previously introduced a bill intended to secure funding to create four regional mental health centers. But at a Health and Human Services Committee meeting Monday morning they amended the bill to redirect funds into existing institutions.

State Rep. Charlotte Warren says the current system funnels people experiencing mental health crises into jails or emergency rooms. "And when you are putting people in a bed, feeding them three square meals a day, and not helping them with what's actually their problem, you are wasting money."

The amended bill would instead expand programs such as the state's crisis phone line and crisis units that partner with law enforcement to connect clients with peer-to-peer counseling. The amount of funding requested for this investment was not immediately available.

According to law enforcement authorities 80% of people incarcerated in county jails receive medication for mental health problems. Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton says the bill would help to reduce that number.

"As far as those struggling with mental health conditions in the jail, it's always a difficult thing to get them out," Morton says. "And so this approach is most pro-active. We're going to try to connect with folks before they get into the criminal justice system."