Committee recommends $8.9M to cover St. Mary's losses in behavioral health services

Mar. 6—AUGUSTA — The Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend passage of a bill that gives a one-time payment of $8.9 million to St. Mary's Health System to cover operating losses in its behavioral health services and allow it to start a new day program.

The bill was amended to include $1.9 million for Spurwink to cover its costs of acquiring Tri-County Mental Health Services.

Most committee members who spoke at the work session Wednesday expressed support for the funding, highlighting the need for mental health services in the state.

St. Mary's was originally seeking $10 million but after the health system "closed the 2023 books" the loss stood around $8.9 million, Douglas Smith, chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs, said.

In addition to covering its 2023 losses, St. Mary's will also be able to fund a mental health day program, if it receives the money. The day program would provide intensive outpatient services to people who do not qualify for in-patient services but need more support than what current outpatient services provide, Smith said.

It would provide a continuum of care for people to move from in-patient services to the day program, then into intensive outpatient services and then into an outpatient program, St. Mary's Chief Financial Officer Joe Marino said. It would extend treatment for people by 60 to 90 days. Now, the health system only has an inpatient and outpatient program but nothing in between.

One committee member asked how the hospital system will ensure that it does not have to seek this kind of funding again.

Smith identified staffing as one of the biggest issues contributing to the system's losses. The hospital has made adjustments to better retain people, along with its increased efforts to work with insurance companies and payers to recover compensation for its services.

The bill was opposed by the Department of Health and Human Services because it does not support individual payments of the like to hospitals. Last year, the department approved rate increases to hospitals for mental health services and St. Mary's is expected to see about $7 million more from that per year once implemented.

Included in the funding requested by St. Mary's is $1.8 million for Portland-based Spurwink to cover its costs to acquire Tri-County Mental Health Services. Spurwink President Eric Meyer requested the money while testifying in front of the Appropriations and Finance Affairs Committee during a public hearing last week for the governor's proposed budget.

Tri-County could close its services by the end of the month if it is not acquired by Spurwink, according to Meyer. Getting state funding would improve the likelihood of Spurwink board members agreeing to the acquisition.

The two organizations have been scrambling since the beginning of the year to fast-track the acquisition so Tri-County's services do not end for those who need them. Some of them are survivors of the Oct. 25, 2023, mass shooting in Lewiston.

"I am deeply encouraged to see the unanimous vote by the Health and Human Services Committee in support of funding for the rescue plan for Tri-County Mental Health Services," Meyer wrote in an email to the Sun Journal. "I understand that there is important legislative work yet to be done for this to be approved in the budget but it is a great step forward.

Committee member Colleen Madigan of Waterville said her decision to support the bill is because of the funding for Spurwink. She said she has watched funding for mental health services get pushed aside and has witnessed some services go away because of it. The organization has provided services to many rural areas.