Public Input Shapes Maine DHHS Response to Lewiston Tragedy

March 8, 2024

Since the evening of October 25, 2023, Maine has continued to assess and respond to the needs of those impacted directly and indirectly by the shootings in Lewiston. Conversations convened by Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) with experts across state government and among federal partners made clear that behavioral health needs, in the wake of an incident of mass violence, persist for months and even years.

Through multiple listening sessions held in December and January, the Department sought to ensure that the State’s response is rooted in community-identified need. Those sessions took place with behavioral health providers, health care leadership, members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, as well as with the New Mainer community, school staff, home-based providers, and other valued partners.

What emerged from these sessions was the sketch of a plan that includes a bolstered behavioral health response poised to meet the evolving needs of individuals in Lewiston and surrounding communities, a trauma-informed learning community that will contribute to a ready and resilient workforce, and a communications campaign to promote mental well-being and access to services. This plan was the basis for the Department’s application for a $2 million federal grant to implement this vision.The Department announced the award of that grant today. A report summarizing the findings of the listening session is available here (PDF).

In the wake of the shooting, DHHS acted in partnership with the City of Lewiston, local health care providers, behavioral health and community organizations, agencies across Maine State government, and federal partners to coordinate the early response to this event. DHHS' Office of Behavioral Health (OBH) leveraged existing contracts and relationships to bolster, coordinate, and maximize available behavioral health supports. The Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) provided in-person trauma-informed trainings for clinicians; the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) monitored crisis line and emergency department data to identify the impact of mass violence, such as individuals seeking help with anxiety or suicidal ideation or attempts; and the Office of Aging and Disability Services (OADS) bolstered capacity to provide spoken language/sign language interpretation services.

  • Via an existing Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) planning grant, OBH provided funds to Tri County Mental Health Services to support coordination for the burgeoning need for clinical services, including access to spoken language/sign language interpreters, veterans' outreach services, and continued Critical Incident Stress Management services. OBH leadership has also worked closely with the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to expand the ongoing CCBHC grant with Sweetser – currently operating out of Brunswick, about 20 miles from Lewiston – to support an increased footprint in downtown Lewiston.
  • Maine DHHS, in partnership with the Governor’s Office, launched multiple websites to support the general public as well as health care and behavioral health workforce. Much of the information contained on these websites was pushed out via a variety of channels, as well, including a Health Action Network alert, a press release, and on social media channels across Maine DHHS. The Maine CDC assisted in translating resources available through the Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, so information was available in multiple languages, critical in the Lewiston area where there are dozens of languages and dialects spoken in the schools.
  • The Department launched an online resource request portal that allowed organizations to request support, including crisis support, mental health trauma debriefing, as well as counseling and emotional support. In total, 36 services were provided in direct response to requests.
  • OCFS supported advanced training for behavioral health practitioners on Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) focused on Traumatic Grief and Mass Casualty. Through Maine CDC’s contract with the Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), NAMI supported 15 sessions of trainings for schools and partners for four affected school districts, reaching more than 850 people with these debrief events which focused on suicide prevention and debriefing in the aftermath of tragedy. NAMI Maine also provided presentations, referrals, and resources to nine community programs and agencies. At least 178 attended in person sessions, with several being recorded and distributed for enduring access.

These services and supports were possible thanks to the many partners who stepped forward to assist during this crucial period.

Resources and supports are available for anyone looking for help:

  • StrengthenME is the Department’s resource for stress management and resiliency resources that includes information on how to access services, whether via phone or text support, or through community connection.
  • The Maine Resiliency Center is open to support individuals impacted by the events in Lewiston, with ongoing support groups and other events.