Maine’s Mental Health Care Crisis: The Struggle to Serve Its Young Residents


Maine young people in need of extensive medical care are currently required to seek treatment outside of the state. Maine does not currently offer a psychiatric residential treatment center for kids aged 21 and younger.

PRTFs are safe, therapeutic houses where people with severe mental health concerns can remain. Without a facility in Maine, families have few options for meeting their child’s mental health requirements. They can send them out of state to a treatment center or use in-state resources, such as emergency hospital visits.

“This is a level of care we desperately need in Maine,” said Sweetser CEO and President Jayne Van Bramer. “These children must be returned to their homes, where they have relatives, friends, and communities. We shouldn’t be shipping children out of state.”

Michelle Richardson’s daughter has spent nearly two months in an emergency department. Her youngster had been locked in a hallway for about two weeks.

“They’ve been able to relocate her into her room, which has no windows and no access to the outdoors. “It’s extremely limited, neither therapeutic nor beneficial,” Richardson added.

Since 2015, at least 30 states in the United States have had a PRTF for youth. Nearly a decade later, Maine has yet to make the list. Within that decade, the number of youth in crisis in Maine has risen.

“About a decade ago, we saw 100 to 200 children annually in the emergency room for crisis assessment,” said Chris Racine, director of emergency psychiatry at Maine Medical Center. “Last year, we saw over 700 youth in crisis in the emergency room.”

Neighboring states such as Vermont and New Hampshire do not have residential treatment facilities.

The primary impediment is a lack of funds to build and operate one of these facilities in Maine. The Committee of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services voted unanimously in favor of allocating funds for a PRTF.

If money is authorized, Sweetser believes a facility in Maine might be operational within eight or nine months.

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