Forum to discuss state cuts to emergency mental health programs

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FARMINGTON – As the state moves toward centralizing emergency mental health services to save money, service providers, particularly in rural areas, say that will lead to a shortage of local services.

A forum to discuss the implications of the proposed budget cuts in Franklin County will be held Tuesday, Sept. 30, from 7:30-9 a.m. in the Ben Franklin Center at Franklin Memorial Hospital. Evergreen Behavioral Services and Franklin Community Health Network are hosting the community meeting.

Emergency mental health services expected to be impacted include immediate crisis-oriented evaluation and treatment to individuals, including children and adults, with serious mental health problems including substance abuse. Services are provided through mobile outreach and at sites such as the Franklin Memorial Emergency Department.

“The Franklin County program serves approximately 900 individuals per year,” said April Guagenti, executive director of Evergreen Behavioral Services. “The crisis team that includes a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and qualified mental health crisis workers, receives an annual state subsidy of about $244,000 for the program that operates 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.”

The implementation of budget cuts targeting emergency mental health programs will have a negative effect on rural areas such as Franklin County, Guagenti said. The legislation requires the statewide reduction in costs by consolidating programs and eliminating duplication of services in Androscoggin, Franklin, and Oxford counties. The fear is that management and access to critical services will be centralized to the more populated Androscoggin County leaving more rural areas to deal with a shortage of local resources.

“Reducing or eliminating the program will have a devastating effect on the community. Emergency room providers, law enforcement, and schools have relied on Evergreen staff to deal with many complicated and critical issues in the past 14 years. The community trusts our psychiatrist and crisis
workers to stabilize situations and help people get back into the community safely with local providers to treat them,” said Guagenti.

Other local programs such as SeniorsPlus, and the Abused Women’s Advocacy Program have centralized services in Androscoggin County due to economic cutbacks, which result in limited or lack of services for Franklin County, she added.

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