DHHS claims Merrymeeting officials never reached out for help

Merrymeeting closes early

BRUNSWICK, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Merrymeeting Behavioral Health Associates in Brunswick told employees on Monday it was closing on April 8thwhen changes to MaineCare’s Section 17 went into effect.

(Related video: Merrymeeting Behavioral Health Associates to close)

But on Friday, the agency told workers that would be their last day and that they may not get a final paycheck. Executive Director, Jim Talbott wouldn't speak on camera, but blames the early closure on the media.

He says on March 20th he found out the agency would be losing 80% of its funding, so he had no choice but to close.

The Department of Health and Human Services says according to records, that number is closer to 12%, and that Talbott had plenty of notice to reach out for help.

Natasha Elston is one of nearly 200 people now rushing to find work after Merrymeeting Behavioral Health Associates abruptly closed its doors on Friday, "We just got a phone call saying “services are ending you need to leave your shift, and you’re not getting paid for the previous three weeks you’ve worked.”

Elston goes on to say, "We were told he was filing bankruptcy and that is why we’re not getting paid. So I’m not sure, he’s had money to go on vacation he was just in Spain and Greece, so he can afford to do that but he can’t afford to pay his employees."

Talbott says because of the media coverage this week, the bank has frozen the agency’s assets and he’s doing everything he can to get those employees paid.

The agency offered home health services to people struggling with mental illness.

Talbott says he did nothing wrong, and did the best he could with the information he had to keep the agency running.

(Related video: Merrymeeting closes early, blocks employee payroll)

DHHS officials disagree. Ricker Hamilton, with the Department, says Talbott never reached out for help; even now they still haven’t heard from Talbott himself.

"Communication from that agency has been minimal at best," said Hamilton. "They have not adhered to the contract they signed with 30 day written notice. We found out about this only a few weeks ago. The 80% figure I’ve looked at, from what our staff is telling us, that there may be as many as 60 of their 500 plus patients that may not, may not, be eligible for Section 17 services."

The Department is now working to find those clients new services, but Hamilton says the panic could have been avoided if the agency had been willing to work with DHHS. "This decision was not client or patient focused and that’s what bothers the department the most."

The Department of Labor has been working with those who’ve lost their jobs, many are moving on to area agencies, a lot of those agencies are also picking up some of the clients displaced.

Copyright 2016 WCSH


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