Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services, Maine
Press Statement for immediate release 12.1.2020
Re: Portland Emergency Wage Provision Litigation
Contact Malory Shaughnessy, Executive Director
The Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services, Maine (the Alliance) is a statewide membership association for community behavioral health organizations providing services, programming and leadership to ensure that Mainers have full access to the continuum of recovery-oriented systems of care for mental illness and substance use disorder – from prevention through treatment and into peer recovery support. Alliance member agencies represent the majority of state licensed providers offering the full continuum of behavioral health services available across Maine.
The Alliance is joining with the Greater Portland Chamber of Commerce today in litigation against the City of Portland challenging the newly passed emergency wage, which, if allowed to take effect, will devastate many of its member agencies providing services in Portland.
There is debate about when the emergency wage provision in the Portland referendum goes into effect, and that leaves too much uncertainty for our member agencies who are trying to meet increased needs with budgets that can barely keep up. Aside from the question of when this ordinance takes effect is the legal question of whether it should take effect at all. If it does, members of the Alliance will be forced to reduce employee hours and reduce the mental health or addiction services available to individuals in the Portland area — at a time of increasing need due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are considering moving their services out of Portland completely which would have enormous repercussions on those in need in the Portland area.
Executive Director Malory Shaughnessy stated, “Behavioral health services are established with rates of reimbursement that are designated by MaineCare or through a grant by the Offices of Behavioral Health or Children’s and Family Services. These rates do not get updated often and many are currently based on already outdated wage rates, some of them established when the minimum wage was only $6 dollars an hour.”
Shaughnessy added “The rates just will not cover these increased costs that would come if the emergency wage provision takes effect, now or in 2022. Many agencies are already seeing 30% or 40% turnover rates which has doubly negative impacts. It means that clients constantly need to get used to new support workers, and it drains funds from the already under funded programs through constant retraining.”
The Alliance has advocated for years at the legislature and with the Department of Health and Human Services to seek increases to these reimbursement rates to provide for livable wages and benefits that attract and retain qualified staff to provide stable services for those Mainers in need of these services.
The Alliance, and its members, believe that all workers, especially those on the front lines of this pandemic, deserve not only a livable wage but one that provides compensation for the hazards they face every day. However, according to Shaughnessy, “The emergency wage rate is going to prove to be a hardship that may be impossible to overcome for many of these nonprofit providers. It also compresses the wage rates between front line and supervisory employees which, too, has adverse impacts on the retention of experienced staff.”