The second decade of the 21st century brought big changes to state government. An economic downturn and a new administration elected alongside others in an austerity-based, small government movement led to budget cuts and staffing freezes at the Department of Human Services. In 2016, a new set of cuts were made to the MaineCare reimbursements that paid for daily living supports for people with disabilities, further exacerbating chronic staffing shortages.
Over this decade, waitlists for services exploded, especially for Section 21 services, which serve those who need daily support to live full lives. Investigations of abuse by Adult Protective Services stagnated, with concern expressed by the Maine Developmental Services Oversight and Advisory Board: “When staff of the [advisory board] contacted, or tried to contact the investigator or the supervisor to find out the status of the investigations, no calls were returned” the board wrote in 2016 comments to the state.
Early Intervention services, tasked to identify young children with developmental delays and provide interventions to mitigate those issues, also came under scrutiny during this time, with data from 2016 showing that Maine ranked among the worst states in providing screening and services to this vulnerable population. Administrative changes and lack of federal support also played roles in a system that left many young children unable to access desperately needed supports.
Towards the end of the decade, another symptom of systemic failure arose: a growing number of people with disabilities in crisis ending up in emergency rooms instead of getting dedicated crisis services. Headlines like “Maine’s forgotten adults adrift in ‘a system in crisis’ after years of neglect” and “Hospitals Struggle To Keep Developmentally Disabled Mainers Out Of Emergency Rooms” highlighted the plight of people with disabilities in an underfunded and uncoordinated system.
Service providers and advocates feared the creation of “mini-institutions, mini-Pinelands, all over the state” (Portland Press Herald, “Maine used to be a leader in caring for adults with intellectual handicaps. What went wrong?”, December 12, 2016)