March 14, 2013

Lawmakers reject sale of AMHI houses

The bill aimed at moving patients out of residential areas would have cost the state $2 million a year.

By Susan M. Cover
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA – Lawmakers effectively killed a proposal Wednesday to move mental health patients who have committed violent criminal acts back to the former Augusta Mental Health Institute campus and out of residential neighborhoods.

click image to enlarge

This photo shows properties at 6 and 10 Arsenal Heights Drive, which are part of the former Augusta Mental Health Institute campus. Wilson's bill would have moved mental health patients who have committed violent criminal acts back to the former campus and out of residential neighborhoods.

Joe Phelan / Staff Photographer

The decision came after the Department of Health and Human Services said it would cost the state at least $2 million a year to care for the 16 patients.

Bonnie Smith, deputy commissioner for programs at DHHS, told the State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday that even if the state sold two houses on the former AMHI property to a private nonprofit that would house and treat the patients there, the federal government still would deny Social Security and other benefits to the patients. That's because even though AMHI is closed, the houses there are still considered by the federal government to be on the grounds of a mental health facility.

"I know it doesn't make sense," Smith said. "The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services does not recognize it, regardless of the owner, if it's on the campus of an institution for mental disease."

For more than 100 years, AMHI served thousands of mentally ill people from across the state. It closed in 2004, at which time the state opened a much smaller facility nearby -- the Riverview Psychiatric Center -- to treat the severely mentally ill.

Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, sponsored a bill to sell the two old "doctors' houses" on the former AMHI campus to the nonprofit Motivational Services to get the patients out of two Augusta neighborhoods.

City officials and residents were stunned last summer to learn that the patients had been moved from the AMHI campus to group homes in two residential neighborhoods, on Glenridge Drive and Green Street, without any notification to anyone.

The state moved the patients -- some of whom were found not criminally responsible for killings they committed -- off the campus when their federal benefits were cut off because they were living in a state-owned facility.

"We understand when dealing with the forensic population the fear is out there," Smith said, but she noted that the recidivism rate for these patients is "incredibly low, close to zero."

"The first sign of stress, and the team responds quickly," she said.

On Wednesday, nine committee members voted against the bill, with many of them saying the information from DHHS convinced them a sale would not solve the problem.


Susan Cover can be contacted at 621-5643 or at:


Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)