Effort Mounts to Restore DHHS Facility to Calais

By Lura Jackson

Prompted by the changing of the state administration, City Councilor Mike Sherrard called for the City administration to once again make the appeal to the state that a DHHS facility is very much needed in the Calais area. City Manager Mike Ellis, in preparation of composing a letter to send to the state, reached out to various organizations for their perspective – and found an enthusiastic response in return.

The closure of the DHHS facility in Calais in November of 2016 has produced a significant strain on the community as residents of Calais and the nearby areas now have to travel a much further distance to access services on a regular basis. When it was in operation, the DHHS facility in Calais assisted approximately 22 visitors a day – more than the facilities in Ellsworth, Farmington, Fort Kent and Machias, according to information from former State Representative Joyce Maker. The office was closed by the DHHS based on its rent costs. During the same time frame, the Fort Kent office was also targeted for closure due to rent costs, but it was kept open following that community’s outcry.

DHHS now operates an itinerant location in a facility across from the post office, but it isn’t open enough to meet the community’s needs, Ellis said. “I’ve talked to some people in that building, and whether it’s due to vacations or whatever, they’re not always there every week, and so there are a lot of people going without that would qualify for services.”

Those who can’t make it in to the itinerant office are required to travel to Machias or further for in-person interviews. Some elderly community members aren’t able to even make it to that step in the process due to their unfamiliarity with using online applications, Ellis said. “They may go to that office over there all days of the week looking for help.”

Ellis said that the effort to formulate a letter has “taken on a life of its own,” with additional resources and support being uncovered by community members including Julie Redding, Clinical Director of the Community Caring Collaborative. “She’s a great advocate for the vulnerable and less fortunate in our region.” Redding shared some of her findings with the City Council during the most recent meeting. 

To help compile the letter, Ellis is asking for stories and support from the community regarding how their needs haven’t been met by the current arrangement.

 

On the legislative side, a separate effort is now underway to reopen the facility via a bill that will be introduced by Marianne Moore and Anne Perry, serving in the Senate and the House, respectively. Both Moore and Perry – who are residents of Calais – are on the State’s Committee on Health and Human Services.