AUGUSTA – An influx of mental patients who are accused of committing crimes is stripping the state’s Riverview Psychiatric Center of federal money and adding to a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall.
So says Daniel Wathen, who oversees the consent decree that holds the state mental hospital accountable to certain standards.
Wathen, who files quarterly progress reports on Riverview, told legislators Wednesday that the shortfall could reach an estimated $2.3 million for the five months remaining in this fiscal year. That deficit is not addressed in the governor’s proposed supplemental budget.
Even with those budget problems, Wathen said, there’s a critical need to increase funding to help people with mental illness who are living in the community.
“More than 400 people are waiting for the most basic mental health service — caseworkers,” he said.
The consent decree calls for anyone who requests a caseworker to get by for at least three days, but Wathen said the wait is typically much longer, sometimes weeks or months.
The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee took no action on Wathen’s concerns, but Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, the committee’s House chairman, thanked him for “filling us in on some of the holes in the mental health safety net.”
Wathen summarized for the panel the conclusions in his latest report on how well the state deals with people hospitalized at Riverview or served by its staff.
The 1990 consent decree requires the state to provide adequate services for those with mental illness. It covers about 4,500 people who were treated at the Augusta Mental Health Institute, Riverview’s predecessor, since January 1988.
The state has an obligation to serve others with mental illness by providing similar services, which brings the number of people served to about 12,000.
Earlier this month, Riverview had 51 forensic patients — those who are accused of committing crimes or have been found not criminally responsible for crimes. There were 57 forensic patients at one point last year.
Riverview was built with 92 beds with the anticipation that 44 would be for forensic patients and 48 would be for general psychiatric patients, called civil patients.
The hospital is facing a funding pinch because only forensic patients committed to the care of the health and human services commissioner are eligible for federal funding reimbursement.
Forensic patients who come from jails or prisons, those getting court-ordered evaluations and those judged incompetent to stand trail are not eligible for federal reimbursement.
That means the state will not receive $2.3 million it anticipated from what is known as Federal Disproportional Share funding.
Earlier this month, Riverview had 24 patients on the civil side of the hospital — those who need mental health treatment but have not committed crimes. Those patients are typically eligible for some funding that supports their care, such as medication and evaluations.
Wathen said Riverview also needs almost $1 million for an audit of the federal program, $750,000 to replace an obsolete electronic medical records program and $543,000 to support services for forensic patients being moved into community placement.
Wathen, a former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, has been the court master for the consent decree since September 2003, when he was appointed to succeed Gerald Rodman.
Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at: