AUGUSTA — Many people spoke to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee on Tuesday about the need for better interventions for people with severe brain disorders ahead of the committee’s work session on the governor’s proposed budget, specific to health and human services.

Multiple family members and advocates of people with severe brain disease, such as schizophrenia and bipolar, spoke about the need to use state funds for better outpatient care related to Assertive Community Treatment and more advocacy for the state’s Progressive Treatment Program.

Yaicha Provencher wipes away tears in December 2022 after speaking in Augusta about her struggle to obtain mental health treatment for her former boyfriend, Justin Butterfield, 34, who was charged with murdering his brother in Poland. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The program gives the District Court the authority to order a person to participate in a community mental health treatment plan. Assertive Community Treatment teams made up of clinicians, social workers and other type of professionals provide round-the-clock service to people with mental illnesses to prevent them from being admitted to psychiatric hospitals, residential facilities or crisis stabilization units.

Though the governor announced her initiative to fund a Crisis Receiving Center in Lewiston and expanding them to different locations around the state, many who spoke at the public hearing said those suffering from severe mental health issues would not seek help from the facilities.

Many of those who spoke Tuesday said the state needs to expand its Progressive Treatment Program law to better help those people with serious mental health issues who will not seek help from those centers because they are not aware of their own disease.

Yaicha Provencher, whose former boyfriend, Justin Butterfield, was charged with murdering his brother in Poland while suffering a mental health crisis stemming from his schizophrenia, spoke to the committee.


She said the governor’s proposed “walk-in centers” are another example of the state not showing understanding or compassion for those who have no awareness of their mental health crisis. She said she does not like the debate surrounding mental health funding and called for more funding for Assertive Community Treatment teams.

“The need for funding and what funding is used for, I feel has become a debate of righteousness as opposed to really looking at how to make our state more efficient and helping those with severe brain disorders,” she said.

Provencher called on legislators to listen to the families of people with severe mental health issues.

Several other family members of people with severe mental health issues gave similar testimony, some even opposing the governor’s budget. Some told stories of losing people to their mental health illness, while others talked about the struggles they have experienced with various state agencies trying to get their loved one help.

Retired U.S. Army Capt. Darrell Hermann said he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1984. Afterward, he had a successful career as a computer programmer until the stress from his job became too overwhelming and started impacting his mental health. He has spoken to several groups as a volunteer recovery educator.

Hermann said the public does not understand what psychosis is. People suffering from psychosis experience delusions and act in ways that make no sense to the average person. It can impact any of the five human senses, he said. People can have grandiose delusions, thinking they are prominent figures in society, or experience paranoia, among other often illogical scenarios.


People with the severe brain disorder can believe the delusions, even hurting or killing people thinking they are defending themselves or someone else, he said.

Hermann likened someone experiencing psychosis to someone having too much to drink and need their car keys taken away, or someone with dementia going out into a blizzard wearing a housecoat and slippers. Society intervenes in both of those situations, he said.

For someone experiencing psychosis, society also needs to intervene to prevent them from becoming a danger to themselves or others, he said. People in psychosis rarely seek help for themselves, they usually have to be coerced or forced to seek treatment, he said.

Former state Sen. John Nutting discusses the struggle family members endure to get relatives mental health care, during a press conference in December 2022 in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Former state Sen. John Nutting, who sponsored the original Progressive Treatment Program bill, also spoke about his concern that the Department of Health and Human Services has not attempted to secure federal funding for Assertive Community Treatment teams, he said.

He also spoke about the need for more awareness around the state’s Progressive Treatment Program law, saying that many police departments are not aware of the law. “The wall between DHHS and law enforcement must come down.”

The state is not using the law as much as other states with similar laws, such as New York, according to Nutting. He believes that court-ordered treatment programs are underfunded because they are underutilized.

However, many advocacy groups have come out against expanding the state’s Progressive Treatment Program law.

Several organizations reached out to the Sun Journal in December 2022 responding to a story regarding Butterfield’s case that highlighted the disagreements regarding how people with severe brain disorders should get treated.

Those organizations cited little evidence that laws like Maine’s Progressive Treatment Program law actually improve outcomes for people and they can actually discourage people from seeking treatment, according to a Dec. 12, 2022, Portland Press Herald article.

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