Today Governor Paul R. LePage released a letter to the Obama Administration urging a greater focus on mental health issues. While lawmakers in Washington and media across the country have concentrated on the gun-control debate, they have failed to address a significant problem involving mental illness.
In the letter addressed to Vice President Joe Biden, Governor LePage writes that the problem the nation faces has little to do with firearm ownership and nearly everything to do with mental health issues. In a separate letter, Governor LePage encouraged Maine's Congressional Delegation to address the same issue.
"The tragedies experienced in Aurora, Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech are horrific and the loss of life unconscionable," said Governor LePage. "However, to prevent future tragedies, we must learn more about the real problem, which is mental health issues. We must be willing to focus on the accessibility and delivery of mental health care services."
The LePage Administration has proposed $2 million in the upcoming two-year budget for services under a consent decree addressing mental health services throughout Maine.
"I am confident these initiatives will mean much more to the individuals receiving these services than simply passing unnecessary gun laws," wrote Governor LePage.
Recently, the National Alliance on Mental Illness gave Maine a B for its delivery of mental health care. The report cites Maine has increased its state mental health budget by 15 percent from 2009 to 2012 and has created an award-winning re-entry program for young people who are afflicted by mental illness. The Alliance, which found problems in every state, gave the United States an overall grade of D for its delivery of mental health care. While no state received an A, six states were given a B.
In 2011, Governor LePage worked with Maine mental health advocates to start the planning of the Lewiston Clubhouse, which opened the doors in January and now has 160 active members with an average daily attendance of 30 people. The Clubhouse provides a supportive space for those with mental illness where employment is used as the primary rehabilitation tool through which members become engaged and recover. In a recent visit to the Looking Ahead Clubhouse, Director Christine Berry, who has known Governor LePage through his Clubhouse support and service for 15 years and who has started Clubhouses in Waterville and Augusta, said the Governor's advocacy has facilitated the program's success in Maine.
A Clubhouse, of which there are more than 300 around the world, is a collaborative community where members work side by side with staff to recover from mental illness and prepare for and be placed in meaningful employment through education and social programs, as well as decision-making and governance of Clubhouse operations.
In 1998, Governor LePage was the first person in Maine to give a Clubhouse member employment when he managed Marden's, and he has since received national recognition for his leadership and advocacy on behalf of the High Hopes Clubhouse in Waterville.