Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew suffered another defeat in the battle to win back federal funds for the Riverview Psychiatric Center last week, and she knows just who to blame for Maine’s failure to meet a legal deadline – a hostile federal government.

“While we are working daily to make sure that mentally ill Mainers have timely access to quality hospital services, the federal government is fixated on a bureaucratic battle with Maine over regulatory technicalities that jeopardizes Maine’s safety net hospital for the mentally ill,” Mayhew said, in an impassioned written statement that was circulated after the decision was handed down.

“It’s time for the feds to stop letting arcane regulations get between mentally ill Mainers and the resources they need, and start acting as a partner with the LePage administration in maintaining access to these critical hospital services.”

Mayhew’s frustration is understandable, but her anger is misplaced. What’s at fault here aren’t the federal government’s “arcane regulations,” but her department’s repeated failure to comply with them.

MISSED DEADLINE

Not only is this another humiliating blow to the state’s reputation, again caused by the LePage administration’s inability to meet simple deadlines, but it also could take a big bite out of the state budget. Maine has been spending as if the lost federal aid would be restored, and that is clearly not going to happen until Mayhew’s department can prove that the hospital is safe.

Riverview was receiving an estimated $20 million a year from the federal government before it lost its accreditation in 2013.

An inspection that spring found that law enforcement officers had used stun guns and handcuffs on patients and other safety problems. These were not “technicalities” but serious deficiencies that demanded attention.

Mayhew and her administrators first tried to remedy the conditions, and received emergency funds from the Legislature that August. But their effort failed to win back accreditation. Then Mayhew went to court to appeal the initial investigation’s findings, even though the 60-day window for an appeal had long passed.

Now two years later, Riverview is still not accredited, and the defiant litigation strategy appears to have failed as well.

Going forward, Maine taxpayers may have to supply the funds that the federal government would have provided to help run an accredited state hospital, and we may even be on the hook for the money the state already has drawn from Washington while the matter was in court. What a mess.

It’s a familiar story. Two years ago, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection lost its authority to set terms in the federal relicensing of dam projects when it failed to meet deadlines. Just this year, Gov. LePage failed to return vetoes to the Legislature in a timely manner, allowing 65 bills to become law.

QUESTIONS RAISED

This appears to be what happens when people who are hostile to government try to run one. LePage and Mayhew can complain all they want about regulation and bureaucracy, but as the people in charge, they have a responsibility to do more than complain.

What would they say about a government agency that pumped millions of dollars into a hospital where patients were unsafe? Wouldn’t they rail about wasteful government spending? Wouldn’t they demand accountability?

Since August 2013, it has been Mayhew’s job to get Riverview into compliance and restore federal funding. It’s not the federal government’s job to be Maine’s partner – it’s Maine’s job to make sure that it qualifies for the funding.

Despite Mayhew’s continual promises that the reforms were underway, and the allocation of emergency funds from the Legislature on five occasions, the hospital is still not accredited.

This latest ruling from federal court should send a clear message to the state: It’s time for Mayhew to stop blaming others and start doing her job.