The Butterfield case highlights disagreements between advocates for the treatment of people with serious mental illnesses

The case of a Pole with diagnosed schizophrenia accused of murdering his brother on Thanksgiving has reignited debate among advocates who disagree on how best to serve people with serious mental illnesses.

Justin Butterfield, 34, is charged with the willful or conscious or depraved murder of his brother, Gabriel Damour, 38.

Damour’s murder reflects a failure of Maine’s mental health system, the brothers’ relatives and some advocates have said.

Justin Butterfield Photo submitted

There have been several missed opportunities to get Butterfield into Maine’s progressive treatment program, Butterfield’s former girlfriend Yaicha Provencher, with whom he shares two children, said at a news conference Monday.

The graduated treatment program was established by a 2010 law by the then senator. John Nutting of Leeds. The law allows certain medical providers, law enforcement officials, or legal guardians to seek an order from the Maine District Court to admit a person with a “serious or persistent mental illness” who poses a risk serious harm to the program.

Under this program, which may include involuntary hospitalization, an admitted person is required by law to complete a treatment program.

But Maine barely uses that law to get people to seek treatment, and state officials have called it a “last resort,” said Nutting, who also hosted Monday’s conference.

“How much of a last resort do you have to be when people are being abused in the ER – staff are – and people are getting killed? … You keep bringing people out again and again and again on the ‘fingers crossed’ plan,” he said.

“We’re just not using the law the way we should, not as much as we should, in our view,” Nutting said.

“And it’s just very, very frustrating because Mr. Butterfield was an accomplished mechanic. They loved him at work when he was following his treatment plan. And so, you know, in Maine, it’s so hard to start treatment when they don’t think they need it, and then we all get these terrible results that are so tragic and unnecessary.

But the federally funded, nonprofit Maine disability rights organization stands in the way, Nutting said.

It’s true that Disability Rights spoke out publicly against the 2010 bill that established the graduated treatment program, Mark Joyce, DRME’s lead mental health defense attorney, said Friday.

But the bill passed and “the law is the law”.

As to why the DRME opposed it, “we oppose these kinds of forced mental health treatment laws in the community because, on the one hand, we don’t know, as a review by the peers, randomized studies suggesting that court-ordered engagement—committing individuals to assertive engagement with community treatment or the ACT team—for mental health treatment alone improves treatment outcomes,” a- he declared.

Justin Butterfield, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, is charged with murder in the murder of his brother in Poland on Thanksgiving Day. Friends and family say Maine’s failing mental health system is to blame. Dossier Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Because the program “commits” a person to treatment by an ACT team, “it may work for a number of people, but what we have seen is that when a community mental health system has him the potential for forced treatment, he discourages people from seeking treatment.

Bangor resident Joe Pickering said the state has not agreed to additional resources that would expand services for Mainers with mental illness, including accepting a waiver from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services of the United States that would pay for short-term residential treatment services, a so-called IMD (institutional mental illness) waiver.

He, too, pointed to Disability Rights Maine, which opposed accepting the IMD waiver.

“It’s completely stupid. And it’s not just silly, it’s terribly disgusting and destructive to Mainers,” said Pickering, who served as Bangor’s director of community health and counseling services for three decades.

Pickering’s son, Christopher, died in 2020 from an accidental fire that broke out in his kitchen. Pickering said his son probably fell asleep and left the stove on.

When Christopher was in his late teens to early twenties, he began showing signs of schizophrenia, a serious and lifelong brain disorder that can alter a person’s perception of reality. The disease can cause chronic episodes of psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions.

Pickering said that while Christopher’s death was not directly related to his schizophrenia or the IMD waiver, “he was clearly declining. There is no doubt about it,” he said.

The IMD waiver would violate the 1990 settlement agreement in a class action lawsuit brought against the state on behalf of residents of the now defunct Augusta Mental Health Institute, Joyce said.

In a 2019 letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, Joyce wrote that “the department’s waiver request is based on an unsubstantiated premise that there is a need for more institutional beds.”

This is “flawed logic” that could increase “unnecessary institutionalization” rather than increase access to community mental health services.

“That’s the most frustrating part…everyone is on the same page about getting people services. (This) problem with the TPP and these things, yes, we disagree with their effectiveness, but it’s the law,” Joyce said.

“The law allows all of this involuntary treatment, but you can’t keep someone in hospital forever. You’re going to have to find a way (to) offload them with the right services,” Joyce said. “And that’s where I think it breaks. It’s like, what kind of services are available? »

Pickering, Nutting and others, like Jeanne Gore of the Maine-based National Shattering Silence Coalition, said they don’t want more people with mental illness to be hospitalized involuntarily. But they want to see a “full range” of community services that they say Maine is lacking.

Provencher, Butterfield’s ex-girlfriend, said the lack of community support contributed to Butterfield’s decline.

“What was he supposed to do when he got out?” Should a man in this psychotic state find resources there to help him with something he thought didn’t need help? ” she says.

“So what do you need? It took a man, who was a loving family man, brutally killing his brother. He took her from homelessness to help her because he loved her. And is that still enough? Is he finally entitled to treatment or is he thrown in prison, prosecuted and punished for the negligence of others? »

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Source : BBN NEWS

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