December 8, 2020
PORTLAND, Maine — Some mental health and substance-use providers in Portland may need to cut down on services in the midst of the global pandemic after a ballot initiative passed in the city that requires employers to pay time-and-a-half in hazard pay during states of emergency.
Malory Shaughnessy, executive director at the Maine Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services, said reimbursement rates for providers through Medicaid and MaineCare have not kept pace with minimum-wage increases, and demand for mental health and substance-use services has surged since the start of the pandemic.
“Now that we’re going into the winter and the holidays, we’re seeing really high spikes in our overdose deaths,” Shaughnessy said. “We’re seeing greater need for substance-use treatment services; for mental health treatment, crisis lines are up on calls.”
The Alliance joined a lawsuit to clarify the start date for hazard pay. Although the city says the ordinance doesn’t go into effect until 2022, at least one lawsuit has been filed to start it immediately.
Shaughnessy said some providers can’t accommodate the increase so quickly, and may have to make immediate cuts to avoid potential litigation.
She said the Alliance supports hazard pay and increases to the minimum wage, but she said along with that, the state needs to either use federal grant dollars or increase the MaineCare reimbursement rates to keep services afloat and available to Portland residents.
“It causes agencies to either close – we’ve seen a lot of closures in the last few years – or cut back on the services they offer,” she said. “And then access is gone.”
She said others may be looking to move out of the city, but Portland has public transit and other accommodations. She noted some other states have used CARES Act dollars to fund hazard pay for essential workers, and she hopes Maine might consider a similar path.