Brunswick job fair for former Merrymeeting employees attracts large crowd

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BRUNSWICK — It may have been cold and rainy outside, but inside a second-floor room at Southern New Hampshire University representatives from 38 social services agencies were furiously recruiting April 11. 

They were hoping to fill a void left by Merrymeeting Behavioral Health Associates, the care provider with nearly 200 employees that closed down unexpectedly April 4.

The Maine Department of Labor and Southern Midcoast Career Center organized the job fair for the displaced employees.

“(Merrymeeting) employees were supposed to get 60 days notice” before their jobs were terminated, said John Wagner, a Career Center consultant. “They basically got five.”

Merrymeeting leadership, through an attorney, has blamed the rapid closing on a change in MaineCare funding, which caused the organization’s bank to close its accounts.

Julie Rabinowitz, a spokeswoman for the DOL, said Merrymeeting won’t be penalized for not giving 60 days notice. Although it is required under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, she said an organization of its size does not qualify as a “plant closing.”

Instead, the department organized the job fair and rapid-response session, which drew 38 area employers, with an additional 12 companies on a waiting list.

“This is a huge response,” Wagner said.

Employers’ tables lined the middle and sides of the room and recruiters handed out pamphlets as prospective employees shopped around.

Robinson Copland, a human resources representative from Mid Coast-Parkview Health, said his organization “hopes, expects and wishes” to hire some of Merrymeeting’s former employees. At his recruiting table, he had a packet listing about 160 full- and part-time vacancies.

To Copland’s left were recruiters from Tri-County Mental Health Services, a psychological and social services agency with locations in Androscoggin, Franklin, Cumberland and Oxford counties.

The 450-employee organization has 20 open positions, according to Human Resources Specialist Earl Fournier, which, he said, is typical for an agency his size.

Even as they tried to recruit Merrymeeting’s old staff, though, employers were aware of the changes that brought about that organization’s closing.

“Section 17 is crumbling,” said Jessica Cantelo, a human resources specialist with Tri-County, referring to the part of MaineCare that dictates how community support services are funded. To adapt, she said, agencies have to be “proactive” in providing new models of care.

“Everyone is watching (the changes in MaineCare) very closely,” said Jeremy Dube, a recruiter at Spurwink. “It could have a big impact.”

But his message to potential new employees from Merrymeeting was “we’re always hiring.” He said he’d already spoken to about a dozen people in his first hour of recruiting, many of them from the shuttered social services agency.

By the end of the day, 72 prospective employees attended the job fair, according to Wagner, of the Southern Midcoast Career Center. About half came from Merrymeeting.

Tim Sardano, a DOL spokesman, said the turnout was evidence that “we are in an employees’ market.”

“The number of openings are up,” he said.

Rachel Brennan, a senior at the University of Southern Maine, said she felt good about her prospects as she walked out of the job fair that day.

She wants to go into case management or direct care, she said.

John Wagner said he believes a lot of people – Merrymeeting employees and others – found strong job leads Monday morning.

“There’s a lot they can do,” he said.

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

Earl Fournier, a recruiter with Tri-County Mental Health Services, talks with a job seeker at an April 11 job fair in Brunswick.

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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.