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In wake of Poland death, mental health advocates asking for better access to treatment in Maine

On Monday, mental health advocates called on Gov. Mills, the state legislature, and Maine’s congressional delegation to better fund progressive treatment programs.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Yacia Provencher shared her frustration about the state of Maine's mental health system with reporters at a news conference at the Maine State House in Augusta on Monday. She said she spent years trying to get her ex-boyfriend, Justin Butterfield, help with his serious brain disorder (SBD) only to be told that he is "not dangerous enough."

"I was told they didn't believe he was experiencing psychosis," Provencher said, fighting back tears. "And everyone went on their way, back to their homes and families of safety."

Butterfield, 34, of Poland was charged with the murder of his brother, 38-year-old Gabriel Damour, on Nov. 24, and Provencher said it could have been prevented.

Twelve years ago, the progressive treatment program bill was passed by the legislature. It was sponsored by former Sen. John Nutting and co-sponsored by former Sen. Peter Mills, the brother of current Gov. Janet Mills. 

Nutting said on Monday that although the program exists in Maine, there are too many limitations to actually get someone on a plan.

"There are still many medical professionals in Maine that don't know the law exists because the department has not told them and not promoted it,” Nutting added.

Just in the last legislative session, a bill was passed to establish a progressive treatment plan fund to pay for progressive treatment plans. But still, advocates said this isn't enough, and if people don't get the help they need, they will continue to commit horrific crimes like murder.

“When untreated, they are four times more likely to become violent. For example, 29 percent of all domestic homicides are perpetrated by someone with an untreated SBD,” Jeanne Allen Gore with the National Shattering Silence Coalition said. 

Gore spent 13 years trying to get her son on a progressive treatment plan. He was hospitalized 43 times before she was successful.

“My son is a great example of the success we can have. He is an accomplished musician who lives independently in the community and is his niece's and nephew's favorite uncle,” Gore said.

Advocates are calling on Gov. Mills, the state legislatures, and Maine's congressional delegation to support and better fund progressive treatment programs to prevent any more crimes from happening that occur when illnesses, such as an SBD,  go untreated.

In a statement from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, a spokesperson wrote the following in an email:

"Maine people facing mental health challenges should have access to effective, compassionate treatment in the appropriate setting that respects their rights and needs. Governor Mills has demonstrated her commitment to this goal by investing in behavioral health in every one of her budgets, following underfunding of the system during the prior eight years. In state fiscal years 2022 and 2023, the  Department is investing an historic $230 million in behavioral health to support the workforce, capacity, and resilience of mental health and substance use providers as well as sustainable MaineCare rates into the future. 

"This includes $15 million to address immediate needs exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, reduce utilization of hospital emergency departments for behavioral health crises, meet increased demand due to the long-term mental health effects of the pandemic, and stabilize and help reduce wait lists for community-based services. The Governor additionally directed that the $20 million included in her Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan to strengthen Maine’s healthcare workforce prioritize behavioral health."

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree's office told NEWS CENTER Maine in an email:

“I share the deep concerns of my constituents who want the federal government to invest more toward mental health care and substance use disorder treatment. That’s why, as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I’ve fought to secure billions for behavioral health care in next year’s spending bill. I am hopeful that our ongoing budget negotiations will wrap soon with cooperation from the Senate, and we can send this critical funding package to President Biden’s desk in the coming weeks. I also support efforts to include the House-passed Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Wellbeing Act in in this spending bill, which would expand a range of important federal programs that support mental health.”

Congressman Jared Golden and Senators Susan Collins and Angus King have not yet provided comment on this stoy.

For more information about the new bill passed to establish a progressive treatment plan fund to pay for progressive treatment plans, click here.

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