Advocates Concerned Over DHHS Plan for Mental Health Crisis Response

Oct 13, 2015

AUGUSTA, Maine — Advocates for mental health consumers in Maine are questioning the state's plan to implement a new system for handling crisis calls and responses.

Earlier this year the Maine Department of Health and Human Services sought bids for a statewide telephone response system to handle mental health crises, and to provide stabilization services for those individuals. That process is still underway and some advocate groups are voicing concerns.

"We find that DHHS lacks the capacity to enforce contracts," says Paula Gustafson, community outreach coordinator for the Consumers Council System of Maine, a group that is federally mandated to represent mental health consumers in the state. "You can make a great bid, say you will do a lot of things, and then if you don't have anyone looking over your program, we lose greatly."

And Bernadette O’Donnell, an attorney with Disability Rights Maine, says there are also questions being raised about how DHHS will make sure that the provisions of any accepted contract will be followed.

"Will anyone conduct utilization review?" she says. "How many people are expected to staff the hotline, and will the RFP reduce the number of crisis stabilization units?"

State Rep. Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston, the co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, questions why the Legislature has not been brought into the process of seeking requests for proposals for the new system, given the difficulties the department had in implementing a new transportation system for clients of the agency a few years ago.

"The RFP doesn't seem to reflect best practices, the concerns that were raised by providers and consumers were not reflected in the RFPs," she says.

No one from DHHS was at the committee meeting to respond to the concerns, and in an email to the panel, Nick Adolphsen, the department's director of government relations and policy, says he's reluctant to comment because the state is actively seeking bids.

Adolphsen offered to respond in writing within the limits of state contract policy. Rotundo dismisses that argument.

"Doesn't ring true for me," she says. "You can talk about why you are putting out an RFP, you can answer the kinds of questions that we had."

Rotundo and other committee members say they will seek additional information on the proposals that are pending.

The committee meets again in November, which is the deadline for proposals. The new crisis response systems are supposed to be in place Jan. 1.