Maine dissolves 27 local public health groups with little explanation
The end of Maine’s 27 Healthy Maine Partnerships comes as the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) changes the way it handles substance use, tobacco and chronic disease prevention, but with little public explanation of the changes it’s making.
September 30 marks the last day of funding for the 27 partnerships. Going forward DHHS will instead rely on five organizations that will each have statewide responsibility for coordinating a specific public health effort, such as obesity, smoking and substance use prevention.
The 27 Maine Health Partnerships are small, regional coalitions that have been responsible for promoting public health in their local areas and played a part in responding to public health emergencies.
For more than a decade, the Healthy Maine Partnerships have combined hospitals, local health care providers, schools, municipal health departments and other organizations into regional coalitions.
They have helped respond to public health emergencies and undertaken proactive public health efforts — collaborating with retailers to crack down on youth tobacco sales, helping towns and cities craft and implement smoke-free policies and increase access to nutritious food, and coordinating with landlords to make their housing smoke free.
What the change entails
- MaineHealth, the parent organization of Portland’s Maine Medical Center, won a $2.3-million contract to prevent tobacco use. One objective in the MaineHealth contract is to reduce the number of kids exposed to secondhand smoke at home by 20%; another is to reduce the adult smoking rate by 10%.
- The University of New England in Biddeford won the substance use prevention contract, worth $2.47 million. UNE plans to fund a variety of local efforts aimed at reducing alcohol use and the use of opioids, prescription drugs and marijuana among young people.
- The Opportunity Alliance in South Portland won a $1.18-million contract to boost youth engagement, which will involve creating a statewide network of “youth-adult partnerships” that work on improving resilience and reducing drug use.
- “Let’s Go!,” a program of the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center, won a $1.6-million award to address obesity without bidding for it competitively. It plans to increase the number of schools and early childhood programs involved with the “Let’s Go!” anti-obesity program and work on other efforts, such as limiting the availability of unhealthy foods in schools.
The Maine CDC’s decision to award the obesity contract without competitive bidding raised a red flag. The new public health infrastructure will revolve around Maine’s nine public health districts, instead of the smaller coverage areas that the 27 regional coalitions oversaw.