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Home > Research Articles > Mental health cuts will take human toll, Maine protesters say

Portland Press Herald

Monday, October 28, 2002

(Portland Press Herald)

Protesters decrying proposed cuts in state mental-health services said on Saturday that the reductions would cost far more than they would save, both in dollars spent and lives lost. "It's a sad situation, which is going to result in the loss of life and many lawsuits," said Joe Pickering of Bangor, a mental-health provider who also has a family member with a mental illness. "These are some of the most vulnerable people in the state. Their services should not be cut."

About 40 protesters gathered in Capitol Park to speak in opposition to $9 million in proposed cuts. They carried signs bearing statements such as: "Don't close down services for the mentally ill" and "Jails are not hospitals."

Kathryn Kelly of Augusta, a mental-health services consumer, said there isn't enough money for services now. She predicted that the proposed cuts would leave thousands of Mainers who get those services without the help they need.

"It's the basic support services we need," said Kelly, a former teacher. "We really want to go back to work. But to go back to work, you need those basic services. Getting any help is a jungle already. There isn't enough funding now."

The protesters said the cuts would take away community-based services for more than 3,000 Mainers with mental illnesses. Without those services, they said, more people with mental illnesses will end up homeless and in jail.

"The fabric of the safety net is failing," said Carol Carothers, executive director of the Maine chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, who organized the protest, called the "Changing Minds March."

Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood said police in Maine's largest city respond to about 600 calls a year involving people in some type of mental-health crisis.

"There are too many people who are homeless, who are underserved or not served at all," Chitwood said. "Cutting $9 million would be a travesty . . . and would continue to shift costs to our police departments and jails. I'm imploring the governor and the Legislature, do not compromise community safety by further eroding a mental-health system that is already underfunded."

Rep. Marilyn E. Canavan, D-Waterville, said it is not moral for the state to break the promise to provide community-based mental- health services made during the drive to deinstitutionalize Maine's mentally ill.

Marjorie Manning Vaughan of Portland said she hoped the gathering would be a beacon of hope for positive change.

"To take away services from 3,000 people who are in need is wrong," she said. "For many of us, it represents our very survival. What price do we have to pay?"

At the start of the protest, organizers called for a moment of silence for U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone. Wellstone, his wife and daughter and five others died when their plane went down in freezing rain Friday in northern Minnesota as they headed to a funeral.

"Sen. Wellstone was a champion for people with mental illness," Carothers said. "He was very outspoken about the rights of people with mental illness."

Despite a steady, cold rain, the protesters marched from Capitol Park and around and through the State House complex, joined by a handful of activists who were in the area for a peace march later Saturday.