Maine: An Encyclopedia
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Mental Health and Mental Retardation

This was the name of the former Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, now merged with the Department of Health and Human Services.  (Even earlier its functions were embedded in the old Department of Mental Health and Corrections.)

Its pre-merger mission statement was described as follows:

Established in 1939 to enhance the quality of life for persons with mental illness and developmental disabilities, the Department helps people to meet their needs for personal, social, educational, vocational and economic development. It seeks to enable them to function at maximum levels of potential and maintain their dignity as human beings and citizens in a free society; and to profit from the variety of options open to all citizens of the State of Maine.

Its mission is to support and empower individuals and families to enjoy and improved quality of life through effective stewardship of public resources. Primary responsibilities are to develop, operate and provide a broad spectrum of facilities, programs, direct services and advocacy services for persons under its jurisdiction.

The Department has long had the responsibility for the State’s two large mental health facilities. The Bangor Mental Health Institute began as the Eastern Maine Insane Hospital on July 1, 1901 to relieve overcrowding at the similar facility in Augusta and to serve eastern Maine. In 1913 it was renamed the Bangor State Hospital, by which it was known until 1973 when it received its current designation: Bangor Mental Health Institute, BMHI or “BAM-hi” to some.  Since 2005 it has been renamed the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center.

Bangor Mental Health Institute (2003)

Bangor Mental Health Institute (2003)

Bangor Mental Health Institute (2003)

Bangor Mental Health Institute (2003)

Here is how one observer summarizes its history:

As BMHI grew, each decade brought new wings and outbuildings for specific purposes (male and female wards, geriatric services, housing for nurses and staff, laundry, etc.). The sprawling campus, interlaced with shaded paths, is still surrounded by acres of open field. Gone, however, are crops and farm animals once tended by patients to feed themselves and support the institute. The population grew to over 1,200 patients by 1965, but a rapid decline began in the 1970s with policies of deinstitutionalization and treatment in the community.

(From The Soul of Hepatica Hill, Bangor 2002. “created by a volunteer team of patients and staff as a public service in support of vital services in northeastern Maine.”) The average daily inpatient census in 2000 was about 80, with many more receiving outpatient services.

The Augusta Mental Health Institute (AMHI) was run in much the same style as BMHI, including its farm, now the grounds of the Pine Tree State Arboretum.

Augusta Mental Health Institute (2001)

Augusta Mental Health Institute (2001)

Augusta Mental Health Institute (2001)

Augusta Mental Health Institute (2001)

One of the most significant recent events for the Department was the signing of the settlement agreement of the AMHI Consent Decree on August 2, 1990. The settlement agreement was a result of a class action lawsuit filed against the Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, the Superintendent of AMHI and the Commissioner of the Department of Human Services. It envisions an expansion of community programs based on the belief that the system must be driven by the values of the people whom that system serves. A corresponding reduction in the AMHI census will be possible as new community services are developed.

In developing a comprehensive Mental Health System, the Department will be governed by the following principles as articulated in the Settlement Agreement: · persons with mental illness are entitled to respect for their individuality. · the full spectrum of needs of these individuals will be met with services that are flexible and responsive. · hospitalization and all other services should be provided as close as possible to the person’s home. · treatment must be provided in the least restrictive setting possible. · services will be designed and delivered based on identified individuals needs. · persons with mental illness have the same right as do all other citizens of Maine. · persons with mental illness not covered by the suit shall not be deprived of services solely because they are not class members. · individuals have a right to refuse all or some of the services offered. The Consent Decree has become an important declaration of policy direction established by the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation with and on behalf of persons with mental illness.

The old Augusta Mental Health Institute has been replaced with the Riverview Psychiatric Center, a new facility on the old AMHI campus.

Riverview Psychiatric Center (2007)

Riverview Psychiatric Center (2007)

Additional resources

The Soul of Hepatica Hill: Creativity at BMHI. Bangor, Me. Bangor Mental Health Institute? 2001.

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This entry was last modified: November 23, 2011 01:13 AM

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