Scarborough's home for young people with intellectual disabilities faces closure


Caitlin Williams, 20, smiles as she sits with her mother, Rachel, and sister, Ellie, 14, in their Cumberland home. Rachel said Caitlin, who has Down syndrome and behavioral issues that can lead to self-harm, is doing well in a residential program for young people with intellectual disabilities at the Morrison Center in Scarborough, where she has been for 2 1/2 years. But the residential program is closing, leaving families desperate for help. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Rachel Williams said her daughter Caitlin is doing well in a residential program for children and young adults with intellectual disabilities at the Morrison Center in Scarborough.

“Caitlin thrives in a controlled, structured environment like the Morrison Center,” said Williams, whose daughter has Down syndrome and behavioral issues that can lead to self-harm. After two and a half years at the Scarborough home, her daughter is now less prone to self-harm, Williams said.

But the housing program at the Morrison Center will soon close, leaving Williams and other families scrambling to find help. Caitlin Williams, 20, is one of eight clients who must now find alternative housing by July 8.

The Morrison Center is one of several similar programs that have closed in recent years, largely due to financial problems and labor shortages. The state had about 900 residential places for children with intellectual disabilities about a decade ago, but that number has now dropped to about 250, says Danielle Loring, executive director of the Morrison Center.

Rachel Williams with her daughter Caitlin, 20, at their home in Cumberland. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Loring said the Morrison Center, which also offers day programs for children and adults, can no longer hire enough staff to maintain the program because reimbursement rates from the Maine Department of Health are too low. Loring said reimbursement rates have improved recently but are not enough to attract and retain the staff needed to run the program.

“This is a systemic problem across the state,” Loring said. “These are wonderful children who deserve the best care. But unfortunately, from a financial perspective, this was not sustainable.”

State reimbursement rates for inpatient and home care increased by 2.5 percent this year as part of a sweeping rate reform by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. The goal was to pay workers 125 percent of the state's minimum wage, or $17.70 per hour (based on the current minimum wage of $14.15 per hour). But the rate makes it harder to hire staff, as many private employers are bidding more to compete for a limited pool of workers.

A Maine DHHS spokesman said the agency could not answer questions Friday afternoon.

Williams will not be able to recreate the environment at home and is worried about what the change will mean for her daughter.

Caitlin Williams, 20, watches a cartoon at her home in Cumberland. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Caitlin is eligible for in-home care through MaineCare, the state of Maine's version of Medicaid. But Williams said she doesn't know how soon she'll be able to access such services or how many hours of help her family will receive. She has since quit her job as a preschool teacher because she can't work and care for Caitlin at the same time.

Caitlin is 20 years old and will soon no longer be eligible for children and young adults, but she is eligible for MaineCare services for adults with intellectual disabilities.

As difficult as it will be for her family, Williams says it will be even worse for other families. She fears some of her children will be sent to other states because there are no alternatives in Maine.

Williams does not blame the Morrison Center for the program's inability to keep running.

“They've tried to stay open,” Williams said. “They've done their best, but they're short on staff.”

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