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Updated: September 18, 2023 On the record

On the Record: Despite staffing challenges, mental health care provider Sweetser aims to grow

Photo / Jim Neuger Jayne Van Bramer is president and CEO of Sweetser, a Saco-based nonprofit behavioral health services provider with a statewide reach.

Jayne Van Bramer is the president and CEO of Sweetser, a Saco-based nonprofit behavioral health services provider with more than 600 employees and a budget of $55 million in fiscal year 2024. She moved to Maine last year from Oklahoma, where she led the revitalization of a psychiatric hospital and outpatient service after spending the bulk of her career with the New York State Office of Mental Health leading the country’s largest public mental health system.

Mainebiz: What services does Sweetser provide and what geographic areas do you cover?

Jayne Van Bramer: Sweetser is a behavioral health nonprofit that provides evidence-based treatment, support and hope through a statewide network of community-based mental health, recovery and educational services. We are the largest provider of mobile crisis interventions in the state, literally meeting people where they’re at. We offer specialty programs like our New England Eating Disorders Program, that provides telehealth and in-person options for addressing this often-overlooked mental illness. We serve children through residential services, crisis services, a special-purpose school and clinicians on school campuses.

MB: What services are in most demand and why?

JVB: We have a wait list of around 2,000 waiting for general therapy and community-based services. The fact is, we need more social workers to go into the field. We need a workforce that reflects this growing need for services. While we are doing all we can to reduce wait lists and increase access to more Mainers in need, behavioral health providers like Sweetser need help attracting the next generation into the psychology field and we need to make it easier for those out of state to move here to practice.

MB: What is the aim of your experiential learning programs?

JVB: Students at our special purpose school in Saco get hands-on experiences in life skills like culinary, automotive, woodworking, media arts, horticulture, and even take care of animals on our working farm. As part of their day treatment, students who often have issues in a typical classroom setting, are able to really come into their own. This program gets to the heart of what we do at Sweetser and speaks to our values of individualized, empathetic, and evidence-based care. It’s truly inspiring to see our students graduate after overcoming so many challenges in their lives. They go on to do great things in their life with a solid foundation of healing behind them.

MB: What’s on your to-do list for Sweetser this year?

JVB: This year is our growth year. My goal is to continue to innovate, improve outcomes and increase access to services in every corner of the state. Sweetser has been around nearly 200 years, and I intend to build upon our prior success to ensure we meet the need for behavioral health in Maine for another 200 years. This fall, we plan to open a Child ACT (Assertive Community Treatment) team in southern Maine. It would mean the only type of mobile treatment and wrap around service provided to youth in our state. We are also expanding our state partnership with OPTIONS (Overdose Prevention Through Intensive Outreach, Naloxone and Safety), adding more liaisons in various counties. We also hope to expand the impact of CCBHC (Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic) to include more areas of the state.

MB: What are your current hiring needs and challenges?

JVB: Like others in our field, staffing is a challenge. Sweetser could use more clinicians and direct care staff for crisis, educational and residential services. It’s tough, but very rewarding work. We have recently opened up our entire Training Institute of professional development workshops, free of charge, to all our employees. This will assist with career growth and meeting ongoing licensure requirements. It’s one of the many perks of being part of team Sweetser.

MB: What’s kept you in this field your entire career?

JVB: People. I love helping people even from a very young age. I knew early on this is what I wanted to do with my life. There is nothing else I’d rather be doing. I go to bed every night, knowing we’re collectively making a real difference in the lives of children, adults and families throughout our state. I’m so very proud to be part of the Sweetser story.

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