The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is charged with protecting and enhancing the health and well-being of Maine people and protecting and caring for those who are unable to care for themselves.
Yet at every step of the way, DHHS seems unwilling to protect those who need it most: babies and children, people with disabilities and mental illness, poor people, those suffering from substance use disorder, and refugees and other new Mainers. When any government agency fails so completely at its stated goals, it is time for accountability. Below is a timeline of the ways DHHS is failing Maine people.
Total articles in this timeline: 81
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services failed to investigate the deaths of all 133 people with developmental disabilities who died between January 2013 and June 2015 while under the care of community-based providers across the state, and, as a result, failed to report suspicious deaths to law enforcement agencies to determine if crimes had been committed, according to a federal audit released Thursday.
Youth treatment facilities are required to report most police calls to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Yet the department didn’t have a corresponding incident report for more than half the police calls.
The program that provides basic medical care to students who lack access to a doctor falls victim to the recent state budget negotiations.
Corrections officials say Maine’s youth prison is overburdened by children with severe mental illnesses and that this population has driven away staff who are not trained to handle them. Young people with mental illnesses are frequently sent to Long Creek because there is a dearth of secure, mental health treatment facilities in Maine, according to Fitzpatrick and people in the justice system. But this is an explanation the Department of Health and Human Services rejects.
The changes reduce the amount of staff supervision the providers are required to provide, and they remove requirements that parents be allowed to visit their children at any time during the day and be informed of licensing deficiencies found by state inspectors. DHHS says it plans to implement the sections that would typically require the Legislature’s OK on an emergency basis, which allows the rule revisions to take effect without the Legislature weighing in.
Legislators who saw the clear need for more treatment options have run up against those who, with the backing of Gov. LePage, have favored punishment for people suffering from addiction, and who have fought against proven medical remedies. His Department of Health and Human Services testified against many of the addiction-related bills as “unnecessary.” He continues to argue that anyone in Maine who wants treatment can find it, even though every expert in the field says otherwise.
Some bills were vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage. The few that did pass tightened opioid prescription practices and created an exemption for long-term prescription opioid users, but they didn’t address treatment or harm reduction. Many were opposed by the Department of Health and Human Services, whose representatives signaled to lawmakers this spring that more investments were “unnecessary,” even though the state’s recent investments have really only offset past cuts in services.
In pursuing its chosen strategy, Maine DHHS is playing loose with the law, ignoring the basic reality of where the vast majority of the state’s children receive child care, and proposing to relax child care licensing requirements.
In relaxing the requirements in-home child care providers must meet to become licensed, DHHS has proposed eliminating a number of rights parents are currently guaranteed by state rules, such as the right to visit their children at any time during the day and the right to be informed of any licensing deficiencies.
After a decade of funding cuts, dozens of homes for Maine people with disabilities are shutting down
At least 24 homes that care for people with intellectual disabilities have been forced to close their doors over the last year, which displaced 69 people with disabilities, according to a recent analysis by the Maine Association for Community Service Providers.
More than 8,600 low-income Maine families lost cash assistance and help finding and keeping work over the past five years due to a policy change under the LePage administration. Those families included almost 15,000 children.
The chair of the commission says people with mental health issues are being increasingly incarcerated because there are few community resources that can serve them.
The second suicide attempt, and its place in the pattern of self-inflicted violence among Long Creek’s scores of young inmates with mental illness, came to light only because DiMillo and the other members of an independent, citizen watchdog group for the prison reported it to the Maine Legislature. Gov. Paul LePage responded with what members of the Long Creek oversight board described as retribution. He dismantled it.
According to a June 7 letter to the Department of Health and Human Services from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal government is essentially recalling funding that has flowed to Maine in support of Riverview from Dec. 31, 2013, through March 31, 2017. Riverview’s decertification resulted from a number of factors, including overcrowding, inadequate staffing and the use of tasers and corrections officers in portions of the hospital.
Federal officials found three regulatory violations with “major” potential for harm to people and the environment during a 2013 inspection of an Augusta lab, including hazardous waste violations.
As the Maine Legislature get closer to deciding on what to do with a diminished health program that helps Maine’s infants and people with infectious diseases, the state agency charged with protecting Maine’s health has repeatedly failed to give lawmakers, and others, public information that could inform their course of action.
DHHS allegations of welfare fraud against a Lewiston man were thrown out after it was revealed that DHHS employees improperly filled out multiple forms relied on in the case.
The employee was fired after authorizing another employee to share a publicly available report about maternal and child health services with a reporter.
When Gov. Paul LePage took office in 2011, Maine employed about 50 nurses spread across the state whose job was to respond to disease outbreaks and other public health emergencies. Today, Maine has a staff of about 20 public health nurses still employed and visiting clients in the field. They no longer have office space.
Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services has paid $315,000 over the past few years to an outside consulting firm to help the state overhaul and simplify the way it handles state-funded child care assistance for lower-income, working parents. But the state agency isn’t acting on the consultant’s advice on simplifying how the assistance works for parents, child care providers and the multiple state offices that coordinate it all.
The mental health care crisis at Long Creek starts with the transfer of children out of DHHS care and into DOC custody. To fix the problems at Long Creek, we must start with the DHHS
“Fiscal responsibility is important in a state as economically fragile as Maine. But fiscal responsibility doesn’t always mean refusing to spend money. Passing up available federal funds and cutting the state’s budget for cutting’s sake - when that money could save lives, support recovery and keep people out of prison which would save taxpayer money - is not prudent and does not advance the wellbeing of Maine citizens.”
Since 2011, Maine has forfeited over $1.9 billion in available federal resources that could have helped protect Mainers’ health and well-being, promote tax fairness, and boost the state’s economy. These funds would have injected up to $700 million into Maine’s economy and supported as many as 4,800 jobs annually.
The state’s child abuse hotline wasn’t able to answer about 1,000 calls per month on average last year, increasing the possibility of injuries to children that otherwise could have been prevented.
Dawn Stiles, director of health and human services for the city of Portland, warned the ramifications of such as major shift would be severe. “You would find people, individuals and families sleeping in cars, sleeping in the community, sleeping on park benches, sleeping on the streets. There is no provision in the budget for exemptions for families with children, for the disabled, for those who have not yet acquired language skills to obtain jobs or for those who have not yet received a work permit. And the impact would be throughout the state.”
According to several providers who have came forward to the Bangor Daily News to share concerns about the state’s system for investigating suspected abuse and neglect, this silence has become increasingly common.
Maine has had to forfeit $1.4 million because it fell behind on its timeline to bring a nutrition program for women and young children into a paperless age. Now, Gov. Paul LePage’s administration says it has “no plan” to upgrade the program’s technology even though the state has to under federal law.
Lawmakers said the idea that the governor could, without legislative oversight, build a new state facility and single-handedly set the state on a new course in its treatment of mental health patients in state custody is concerning.
Despite a rising death rate for Maine infants, the state panel tasked with investigating these trends has not sought detailed information about specific infant deaths for several months and appears to have ceased work altogether.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services and Portland have reached a settlement in the city’s lawsuit over the agency withholding about $1.6 million in General Assistance reimbursement. DHHS paid the city about $1.3 million and agreed to drop its appeal of an earlier court ruling in Portland’s favor, the city announced Tuesday.
Gov. LePage wants to make us afraid of people who are different from us by saying things that are not true. The truth is, refugees are the most heavily vetted people in this country. Thankfully, the governor does not have the power to stop refugees from coming to Maine. Maine is a welcoming state, and we will continue to welcome refugees with open arms.
Just days before the presidential election, Gov. Paul LePage has announced that Maine state government will no longer cooperate with the federal Refugee Resettlement Program.
In less than five years, the LePage administration has quietly stockpiled $155 million in unspent TANF funds, according to state budget data, an unused balance that has grown at a rate higher than any other state in that time. Maine’s total as a percentage of annual grant funding is among the highest in the country as well. Meanwhile, extreme childhood poverty – defined as families making less than 50 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $10,000 – has increased in Maine during that time.
The rules changes would affect MaineCare Section 21, which provides support services for adults with intellectual disabilities. The services help the clients – mostly living in group homes – with daily living tasks, such as personal hygiene, meals, laundry, running errands and transportation.
The [Department of Health and Human Services] “took an overly aggressive approach” that signals “troublesome” practices when it comes to managing federal grant awards, wrote Maine State Auditor Pola Buckley in a rare report highlighting “improper management of funds at the agency level that should rise to the attention of the Governor, the Attorney General and the Legislature.” In addition, she wrote, DHHS was aware its use of the $13.4 million was “questionable,” but it went ahead with the spending anyway.
Described by experts as ‘fragmented,’ Maine’s public health infrastructure is unprepared to address issues like the rising rate of babies who die before they’re a year old.
A former state health director says Maine’s rising infant mortality rate is likely due to a lack of public health nurses. “We used to have the lowest infant mortality in the country, and we now have 13th from the worst,” she says.
Unfortunately, the only thing standing in the way of progress is the same thing that has mucked up the works in Augusta on so many other issues – the LePage administration’s unwillingness to treat skeptical stakeholders as anything but enemies.
After the BDN published an article on June 23 detailing the spending, Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew denied that her department had misspent federal money. But in early August, Maine DHHS retroactively amended documents it submitted to the federal government months earlier detailing the state’s spending under two federal grant programs in federal fiscal year 2015, which ended Sept. 30, 2015. The amended documents deleted the transfer of funds between grant accounts that paid for services not allowed under the law.
In 2014, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services won a $1 million-per-year, five-year grant to help teenagers and young adults at risk for serious mental illness. But without explanation, the department recently turned away the remaining three years of federal funding, giving providers a month to wrap up services.
The state’s financial commitment to fighting the heroin and opiate epidemic has decreased during a time when drug overdose deaths have soared into unprecedented territory and as demand for treatment far outstrips available resources.
In the five years since Maine received $5.7 million to expand home visiting, the expansion hasn’t happened and the collaborative spirit hasn’t materialized.
In addition to leaving positions unfilled, Maine Department of Health and Human Services leadership implemented policies that simply made it more difficult for the public health nursing program to function. DHHS closed many of the program’s regional offices and cut clerical support for nurses, leaving nurses filling out paperwork in their cars. Hensley, as the program’s director, was barred from emailing the staff members under his supervision without approval from staffers in DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew’s office. DHHS leadership ordered public health nursing to remove its program brochures from circulation, limiting the program’s ability to get the word out to health care providers.
Dozens of interviews and documents show what led to a no-bid contract funded entirely with public dollars: a closed decision-making process, the state’s questionable justification to avoid competitive bidding, and limited communication about the transfer of a multimillion-dollar state program to the nonprofit sector. The circumstances raise questions about transparency and accountability.
“It is bitterly ironic to me that at a time of increasing public recognition and concern about our opioid epidemic that I, as a provider, am getting institutional opposition, not support, from DHHS.”
Proposed changes to state rules for how methadone and Suboxone clinics serve Medicaid recipients threaten to drive some of those clinics out of business in the midst of an unprecedented addiction crisis in Maine, advocates for medication-assisted treatment testified Monday.
Though the redeployment of unused TANF funds was touted as an “innovative” reform to the state’s welfare system, the administration planned to follow through in a way that would have violated a federal statute. The statute in question forbids states from taking a pool of funds earmarked for one population (low-income families with kids) and spending it on an entirely different demographic (elderly and disabled residents).
“We are literally talking about taking the food off the table of Maine families struggling to make ends meet,” Pingree said in the email. “SNAP is a program funded by the federal government, but the law is clear – it’s up to the states to run it. If Maine were to pull out of SNAP, then Maine people would not have access to it. Families that depend on SNAP – seniors, children, veterans – would go hungry. This is not how we treat each other in Maine.”
Some of the initiatives able to pass in the divided Legislature have seemingly been left to collect dust by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. At least three programs, including two approved and funded a year ago, have not yet been put in place, with no explanation from the department.
“You are receiving this letter because our records show that you owe us money,” reads a letter DHHS sent to one of the affected people in September 2015. “Our records show that some or all of the money that you owe us was caused by our mistake.”
As Maine providers struggle to meet an overwhelming demand for addiction treatment services, the state has yet to move forward on seeking proposals to initiate at least three programs, all funded and two of which lawmakers funded as long as a year ago.
Critics already are threatening legal action because the DHHS rules say that asylum seekers who have yet to file federal applications would be ineligible for assistance. That violates the intention of the law passed by the Legislature last year, according to immigration advocates and one lawmaker who was involved in crafting the law.
The Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee voted 6-5 along party lines to block a Maine Department of Health and Human Services proposal that could dramatically reduce the reimbursement rates for dozens of agencies that serve thousands of families.
The changes would affect thousands of MaineCare clients with chronic mental illnesses currently assigned to case managers who help them with everything from transportation to grocery shopping to dressing and staying on top of their medications.
Mental health advocates are raising concerns about a state Department of Health and Human Services plan that could result in the closure of several mental health peer recovery centers. Maine has 12 of these centers, but under a new state formula and plan, they could be capped at eight, putting some centers geographically out of reach for clients.
Providers of mental health and adult disability services are scrambling to understand pending changes from the Department of Health and Human Services that could cut or interrupt services for thousands of consumers and change payments for service providers.
Since September 2015, lawmakers have twice asked DHHS for information on why the department has not taken action to implement the new standards that were made law months ago.
Court Master Daniel Wathen, a former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, laid out the recommendations in a progress report issued Monday covering the past six months that found the hospital had failed to make changes that it had proposed.
Thousands of children from around Maine are being poisoned in their homes, where lead paint is doing lifelong damage to their bodies and brains. Legislators last June enacted a law that sets tougher exposure standards and includes funds for cleaning up contaminated housing. But the old standards remain in place, seven months after lawmakers tightened the state lead-exposure criteria. Why? Because the Maine Department of Health and Human Services hasn’t put the tougher benchmarks into effect.
Maine has a criminal justice system to determine who goes to prison. If someone is determined to be incompetent to stand trial or not criminally responsible, that person has not been convicted of a crime and does not belong in prison. This bill would send people to prison who have not been convicted of a crime - and that goes against everything our justice system stands for.
Jenna Mehnert, executive director of NAMI Maine, condemned the plan in harsh terms, saying the group was “flabbergasted,” “shocked” and “horrified” at the plan, which she called “criminalization of mental illness.”
Just before Christmas, Gov. Paul LePage turned down a five-year, $2.5 million federal grant that would have helped Mainers avoid colon cancer. That decision represented a failure to recognize the medical reality faced by the people of our state, and to heed the advice of the medical community.
Peter, who can’t speak or feed himself nor perform a range of other personal tasks, enjoys that care through state Medicaid funding. That care is at risk, according to Meltzer, because of a new proposal by the Department of Health and Human Services to use a standardized test to determine how many hours a week of paid support patients like Peter receive.
The federal government says Maine processes food stamp applications slower than any other state, and its “chronically poor performance” doesn’t meet federal standards.
State Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew and another top agency official are under threat of a legislative subpoena if they don’t voluntarily attend an upcoming meeting of lawmakers to answer questions about recurrent problems with patient treatment and safety at Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta.
The move to impose an asset test on adult SNAP recipients without kids would be laughable if it didn’t involve the prospect of people going hungry and sinking further into poverty. It will do nothing to help poor Mainers escape poverty, nothing to save the state money, nothing to cut down on inefficiency in SNAP administration and nothing to address Maine’s growing hunger problem.
Parents whose children attended a shuttered day care center in York County want to sue the state for not doing enough to protect their children from abuse, including taunts, forced-feeding and physical restraints.
A federal judge on Thursday ruled that Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services missed the deadline to appeal a decision intended to cut off Medicaid reimbursement for patients at Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta.
The number of public health nurses has steadily declined over the course of Gov. Paul LePage’s administration, even as legislators have provided funding for the positions in the state budget. The state has filled few of the more than 20 vacancies that have come up in recent years, leaving key population centers and rural areas with scant coverage.
A federally funded program aimed at increasing well water testing in rural Maine will end in August after the state didn’t reapply for a grant, drawing criticism from advocates calling for increased public outreach.
The commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services has been ordered to appear in court next month for a contempt hearing on her department’s refusal to admit a patient to the state’s psychiatric hospital as ordered by a judge.
“Thousands of Mainers suffering from addiction don’t have access to the help they need, yet once again Governor LePage’s response is to funnel money into arresting and incarcerating them. The governor's words about treatment and recovery ring hollow considering that on his watch there have been nothing but cuts to these critical programs. If Governor LePage truly cares about helping the people of Maine, he will stop pushing the failed war on drugs and start listening to the medical experts who say it’s time for a new approach.”
More than a dozen medical professionals countered the administration’s stance that Suboxone could replace methadone treatment, pointing out that research shows they are different medications and in many cases serve separate populations of addicts.
The governor wants to change the formula that distributes more than $18 million in state aid to Maine's cities and towns in General Assistance, while also eliminating the program's reimbursement for asylum seekers and other non-citizens. The changes would hit Maine's largest communities the hardest - and that's where critics say the need is the greatest.
“The LePage administration is barging ahead with a proposal that it has been told in no uncertain terms is unconstitutional. We have a rulemaking process in place for a reason – to protect the people of Maine from unlawful policies like this one.”
Maine attorney general rejects proposal by LePage administration to bar General Assistance for immigrants
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has ruled that a proposal by Gov. Paul LePage to bar immigrants and asylum seekers from receiving General Assistance is illegal and unconstitutional.
According to a plagiarism expert who studied the Alexander Group’s report on Maine’s public assistance programs this week, the authors took information from as many as five other sources, without attribution or with improper citations of the original source.
Two former state child care inspectors say managers in the Department of Health and Human Services knew about abuse and neglect at day cares but often did nothing, letting staff reports on abuse languish on their desks for months or years and harassing inspectors who pressed for more action.
Maine has hired the controversial former welfare chief of Pennsylvania to conduct a $925,000 review of its Medicaid program and the potential effects of expanding it through the federal health care law. Alexander’s Medicaid cuts in Pennsylvania prompted a review after 130,000 people, including 89,000 children, lost health care coverage.
A federal judge on Thursday ruled that Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services missed the deadline to appeal a decision intended to cut off Medicaid reimbursement for patients at Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta.