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Jul 10, 2023

Broadband Funds Could Improve Mental Health Care in Rural ME

Health care providers in Maine hope an influx of federal dollars to expand high-speed internet service will improve access to mental health care in Maine's most isolated communities.

The state will receive more than $270 million through the bipartisan infrastructure law to help connect the more than 75% of Mainers who currently lack access to broadband.

Greg Marley, senior clinical director of suicide prevention for the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Maine, said rural communities lacking available counselors will be able to access help online.

"Telemedicine makes it whether you're in Madawaska or Mattawamkeag, you can call in and receive services so long as you have adequate bandwidth to connect," Marley explained.

Ten out of 16 counties in Maine currently have a shortage of mental health providers. Marley pointed out some professionals left the field or cut back working hours because of burnout from the pandemic. Telemedicine, if used properly, could help fill those gaps.

Legislation known as the CARE Act introduced by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, would allow mental health providers to practice across multiple states and more easily reach those rural Maine communities.

Marley emphasized it is important for people to have flexibility and choice in selecting their mental health counselor to ensure the best results.

"For someone who is going to share some of their vulnerable history and the parts of themselves that are not functioning well mentally or emotionally, it takes some trust," Marley noted.

Marley added it is important people have privacy at home to work with a counselor online. They will also need to be able to afford it. A recent survey by the Maine Connectivity Authority found 47% of respondents have some difficulty paying for internet service despite available programs to help.

Disclosure: NAMI Maine contributes to our fund for reporting on Mental Health, Social Justice, and Youth Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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