Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane shakes hands with well-wishers after being sworn into office on New Year's Day 2015. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

A new written agreement between Healthy Acadia and the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office that allows the public health group to provide opioid recovery coaching to county jail inmates calls for the two parties to “communicate regularly with mutual respect.”

The memorandum of understanding, which was signed on Feb. 5, says that if any conflict or disagreement occurs, Healthy Acadia and the sheriff’s office will “resolve these issues in a direct and civil manner.” It also says either party can terminate or modify the agreement “with or without cause” as long as they give 30 days’ notice.

The agreement restores an arrangement that Sheriff Scott Kane terminated last summer after he took offense at a public statement Healthy Acadia issued in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, which he has described as an anti-law enforcement group that has called for violence against police officers. Black Lives Matter leaders have said they oppose all forms of violence.

Healthy Acadia officials have said that racism is a significant factor in public health, that addressing racial inequity is well within its mission, and that it can and should be considered and prioritized in all the group’s programs.

The document also specifies that if either party decides to terminate the agreement, the county commissioners will be notified in writing and that Healthy Acadia and the sheriff’s office will work to ensure that there is no interruption in recovery coaching services for inmates and that recovery coaches can share information about the transition with inmates. 

Last summer, when Kane barred Healthy Acadia from working at the jail, a prior written agreement had expired so there were no provisions for commissioners to be notified or for Healthy Acadia recovery coaches to continue working with inmates until the county found a new provider.

Kane has said his jail staff tried for seven months after he ended the Healthy Acadia arrangement to find another organization to provide recovery coaching, but were unable to do so. Kane reversed his earlier decision not to allow Healthy Acadia to work at the jail after the Bangor Daily News reported on the situation, prompting a public outcry.

Hancock County commissioners, who do not have authority over how the jail is run but do have oversight of all aspects of the county budget, had announced plans to meet Jan. 30 in executive session with the county’s attorney to discuss possible legal ramifications of Kane’s decision, but then decided they did not need to do so after learning of Kane’s reversal on barring Healthy Acadia from working at the jail.

The program at Hancock County Jail is not funded by the county, although the county helped financially support it when it got off the ground in March 2017, according to Elsie Flemings, executive director of Healthy Acadia. In recent years the recovery coaching program has received funding from the state Office of Behavioral Health, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services; the federal Corporation of National and Community Service, which administers the volunteer AmeriCorps program; and private sources, she said.

In addition to making recovery coaches directly available to county jail inmates in Hancock and Washington counties, Healthy Acadia is involved in providing recovery coaches to inmates in Piscataquis, Somerset and Waldo counties. Healthy Acadia’s Maine Alliance for Recovery Coaching program provides state funding to other public health organizations that are contracted to provide recovery coaches to inmates in those counties.

Healthy Acadia also coordinates the Maine RecoveryCorps program, which is a project funded through AmeriCorps that offers substance use recovery support services through organizations in Aroostook, Hancock, Knox, Piscataquis, Penobscot, Somerset, Waldo and Washington counties.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....