Wednesday, June 19, 2013
AUGUSTA -- The state's psychiatric hospital has a space squeeze.
The Riverview Psychiatric Center is located on the east side of Augusta.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan
That reality has been highlighted by the case of Eric Bard, 23, of Sidney, who is accused of raping a 4-year-old girl he was baby-sitting and recording it.
There's no room at the 92-bed Riverview Psychiatric Center to do a court-ordered evaluation of Bard, so his case is on hold and he remains in jail.
Attorneys described the situation to Justice Michaela Murphy on Tuesday in Kennebec County Superior Court. Bard's evaluation is meant to determine his mental competency to face the charges, and possible defenses involving abnormal condition of mind and criminal responsibility, as ordered by a different judge last week.
Those evaluations require a stay at Riverview that could last 60 days. Murphy said she was told that Riverview "is aware of the situation and doing all they can."
Former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Daniel Wathen, who oversees the implementation of a consent decree involving the hospital, said in a report issued Monday that the lack of space has become more problematic lately.
Active court monitoring was part of the consent decree that settled a lawsuit brought two decades ago by mental health advocates in response to dangerous living conditions and patient deaths at the Augusta Mental Health Institute.
Riverview, which opened in 2004 to replace AMHI, was designed to accommodate 45 forensic patients and 47 civil patients. Forensic patients face criminal charges and have mental health issues, while civil patients do not face charges.
An Aug. 1 census, as reported by Wathen, listed 57 forensic and 35 civil patients, so forensic patients now occupy beds on the civil side of the hospital. Such swapping rarely occurred in the past, Wathen said.
"In recent months, however, there has been a marked increase in the number of forensic admissions," Wathen wrote in a report submitted to the court Monday. "Mixing these two populations on a permanent basis is not desirable and presents operational difficulties."
On Tuesday, Wathen said he didn't know how long the situation will last.
Riverview Superintendent Mary Louise McEwen was out of the office Tuesday and unavailable to say how long a wait is anticipated for new forensic patients.
"There's enough fluctuation in the number of forensic people coming in that it's hard to tell whether this is a six-month blip or a more prolonged shift," Wathen said. "They've had this in the past when they've had to house forensic patients on the civil side, but not quite to this degree and not quite for this amount of time."
Wathen said forensic patients have first priority for Riverview beds because other hospitals, such as Spring Harbor in Westbrook, Acadia in Bangor and the state-operated Dorothea Dix, also in Bangor, can accept civil patients.
"No other hospitals can accept forensic patients," he said.
The consent decree covers about 4,500 people, everyone treated at AMHI or Riverview since January 1988. The state has an obligation to serve others with mental illness by providing similar services, bringing the number of people served to about 12,000.
Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at: