Job fair planned for former employees of Brunswick behavioral health agency

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BRUNSWICK — The state Department of Labor is offering emergency unemployment services to former employees of Merrymeeting Behavioral Health Associates, who learned Friday, April 4, that the care provider would close a week earlier than expected.

The department announced Wednesday it would hold a job fair in Brunswick Monday, April 11, to link Merrymeeting’s displaced workers with “more than three dozen employers” who have expressed interest in hiring them.

The news is the latest in a series of events that saw Merrymeeting go from a nearly 200-employee health center serving 400 clients, to closing down permanently.

Human Resources Director Kacie Parker said the company would shut down April 8 in a letter to Town Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman and representatives of the state bureaus of Employment Services and Labor Standards on March 28.

The reasons, according to the letter, were pending changes in MaineCare that mean the  state will no longer reimburse Merrymeeting for 80 percent of its services.

The organization provided case management, outpatient, and in-home mental health services from its office at 76 Pleasant St.

Parker said all clinical employees would be terminated April 8, and office staff terminated April 22.

But employees were let go before the April 8 time line. According to reports provided to The Forecaster and the Bangor Daily News, staff received phone calls from their team leaders April 1 informing them that they had seen their last day of work.

In a message sent to staff, Merrymeeting CEO Jim Talbott said, “I am confident in my knowledge that we did nothing wrong. We were often used as a model of optimal service for other agencies (around) the state.”

He asked that employees’ questions be directed to his attorney, David Perkins, who said Tuesday the abrupt closing was driven by financial necessity: the company was cut off from its bank.

“(Merrymeeting) closed because (TD Bank) closed its bank accounts when it heard of the state change (to Mainecare),” Perkins said.

In statements, the Department of Health and Human Services said Merrymeeting, by sending letters to the town and notifying employees it would be closing, was “triggering alarm” prior to “seeking help from the department.”

But Perkins pushed back on DHHS’ assertion that Merrymeeting could have worked out a smoother transition. “If you know your funding is going to stop … and the bank learns of that, then the bank is going to do what the bank does,” he said.

“There’s nothing the agency could have done,” Perkins added.

Employees reported that SequelCare of Maine, a behavioral health-care provider with offices in Yarmouth, Belfast and Brewer, will be hiring some Merrymeeting staff and taking over clients.

The state-sponsored job fair, which is also open to the public, will be held at Southern New Hampshire University on Tibbetts Drive from 9 a.m.-noon. It is being organized by the Bureau of Employment Services and its Southern Midcoast Career Center.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.