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Updated: June 11, 2020

Fed funds will help expand crisis telehealth, behavioral health services for Mainers

Responding to impacts from the pandemic, the federal government is sending grants totaling $1.5 million to Maine to expand telehealth and behavioral health services.


The Federal Communications Commission’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program awarded $516,160 to two health centers to improve and expand telehealth services, according to a news release.

• Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston was awarded $270,172 for computers, tablets, network upgrades and a telehealth platform to design, implement and support an integrated telemedicine application across three sites for use of video telehealth, including specialty consultations between a provider in a distant facility and a patient in a separate facility.

• Portland Community Health Center in Portland was awarded $245,988 for a telehealth platform, computers, tablets, diagnostic equipment, mobile hotspots and other telehealth equipment to monitor and provide care for patients in isolation who have tested positive for COVID-19. The funding will also set up dedicated telehealth rooms for all patients without the ability to participate in a remote visit, and go toward deploying a portable teleclinic system to monitor the vitals of patients without physically being in the same room.

The FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program was authorized by the CARES Act, to provide telehealth services during the coronavirus pandemic.

Telehealth services are soaring in Maine during the public health crisis, Mainebiz reported in early April.

Behavioral health

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services will use nearly $1 million in federal funding awarded this week for a program to help Maine people cope with the psychological effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding will help provide support for individuals exposed to the virus and proactive outreach aimed at reducing the long-term behavioral health impacts of the pandemic, according to a separate news release.

Individuals are increasingly reaching out for behavioral health support in the face of the pandemic. Maine’s Intentional Warm Line, which offers non-crisis peer support to adults, has received more than 6,000 calls since March 30, an increase of 40%.

“This funding will support additional boots on the ground to help those in Maine facing behavioral health challenges now and to prevent post-COVID challenges in the long-term,” DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said in the release. 

The funds will support work to proactively help Maine people cope with distress and support their health during the pandemic as well as when it is over, Dr. Jessica Pollard, director of the DHHS Office of Behavioral Health, said in the release.

“There are immediate behavioral health impacts from this pandemic as well as potential long-term effects as people grapple with disruption, isolation, traumatic experiences, grief, and economic instability,” said Pollard.  

DHHS will use $989,045 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to:

  • Contract with behavioral health providers and organizations to offer crisis counseling to individuals diagnosed with COVID-19, close contacts of such individuals, and people living or working in an outbreak setting. Community health workers will be trained to provide psychological and emotional support, assessment and case management, and facilitate connections to Maine CDC contact tracers. 
  • Launch a public awareness campaign offering information on expected emotional reactions to public health emergencies, building resilience and coping skills, knowing what warning signs to watch for, and when and how to seek help. While the campaign will serve the general public, it will target those with pre-existing behavioral health conditions, first responders and health care workers, and those experiencing significant economic impacts from the pandemic.
  • Support  the Maine Frontline Warmline for first responders and health care workers, National Alliance On Mental Illness’ Teen Text Support Line, bolster the Intentional Warm Line and add psychological first aid as a service accessible through Maine’s 211 system.

Maine DHHS also will assess the behavioral health needs of various communities, including people of color such as new Mainers, Tribes, first responders and health care workers, to determine how best to direct future resources. DHHS plans to apply for a second round of federal funding to extend this project over a longer term.

The Maine Emergency Management Agency is the direct recipient of the award and will transfer the funds to DHHS.

A new volunteer phone support service, FrontLine WarmLine was launched in April to help Maine health care workers and first responders manage the stress of serving on the front lines of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Intentional Warm Line is a mental health peer-to-peer phone support line for adults, offering mutual conversations with a trained peer specialist who has life experience with mental health recovery.

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