August 28, 2013

Panel told LePage's Riverview bill just a small fix

The bill would establish a mental health unit at the state prison where some of Maine's psychiatric patients would be sent.

By Steve Mistler
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Riverview proposal

Is a proposal that would move mental health patients to the state prison in Warren an acceptable solution to overcrowding and backlogs at Riverview Psychiatric Center?



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This aerial photo taken on Tuesday April 30, 2013 shows The Riverview Psychiatric Center on banks of Kennebec River in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Even if lawmakers enact L.D. 1515 when the Legislature convenes on Thursday, Mills told the panel that it should stay involved with the problems at Riverview.

Other groups questioned whether L.D. 1515 was appropriate, because it would effectively ship some mental health clients into a correctional facility.

"It should strike us all as strange that we'd send someone to prison to receive health care," said Zachary Heiden, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, also worried that shipping more mental health patients to Warren would result in a different set of compliance rules.

The Department of Health and Human Services is charged with oversight of Riverview. The proposed ward at the prison would be overseen by the Department of Corrections.

Joseph Fitzpatrick, clinical director of the prison system, also acknowledged that the 32-bed ward at the prison wouldn't meet the hospital compliance standards under which Riverview operates.

Heiden said he was also concerned about provisions in the bill allowing the Department of Corrections to forcibly medicate patients. While such action would require a court order, Heiden said the measure assumed hospital-level care and supervision at the prison.

Nonetheless, some lawmakers appeared inclined to enact L.D. 1515, which carries an estimated cost of $1.5 million in the current fiscal year and $3 million a year thereafter.

Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, said the bill wouldn't address all the compliance problems cited by the federal government. However, it would provide some measure of additional security at Riverview.

Others were unsure, particularly since the bill didn't address most of the problems outlined in the federal audit. Some on the panel were less certain when McEwen, the Riverview superintendent, said that the federal audit and L.D. 1515 were "two separate issues" with little crossover.

L.D. 1515 was proposed by the LePage administration, but carried over at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services, which anticipated that lawmakers wouldn't be able fund the bill in the biennial budget.

Earlier this month the governor notified Democratic leaders about the funding cutoff through a news release. In the release, LePage blamed the Legislature for not funding his proposal.

According to her written remarks from the May 10 public hearing on L.D. 1515, McEwen did not mention the audit or the pending federal action to the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. She did, however, underscore the importance of the bill and increasing safety problems at Riverview.

Democratic lawmakers expressed frustration that they weren't notified of the federal audit.

The bill would add approximately 15 positions for the expanded ward in Warren. The Department of Corrections would have to hire additional staff to handle the new patients. Jody Breton, the deputy commissioner for the Department of Corrections, told lawmakers that it may be difficult to hire psychiatric staff quickly.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

Twitter: @stevemistler

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Today's poll: Riverview proposal

Is a proposal that would move mental health patients to the state prison in Warren an acceptable solution to overcrowding and backlogs at Riverview Psychiatric Center?



View Results