February 25

Hurdles remain after group accredits Maine psychiatric center

Though officials touted a nonprofit’s accreditation, Riverview still needs the federal government to sign off.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Maine health officials on Monday trumpeted a nonprofit group’s recent accreditation of Riverview Psychiatric Center, but the hospital must still pass a federal inspection to regain funding it lost last year.

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Riverview Psychiatric Center is on the east side of Augusta.

Photo by Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

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The seal of approval from The Joint Commission, an Illinois nonprofit organization, is nothing new for Riverview, the state-run hospital on Augusta’s east side. The hospital and its predecessor, the Augusta Mental Health Institute, have been accredited by the group since 1958, said Maine Department of Health and Human Services spokesman John Martins.

Still, in a news release Monday, Mary Mayhew, the department’s commissioner, said the group’s accreditation of Riverview showed the state is “making a significant investment in quality on a day-to-day basis.”

The Joint Commission’s approval can sometimes function as the federal government’s, said Elizabeth Eaken Zhani, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit. Martins said the state wanted to pursue that option but the federal government told the state it would have to recertify the hospital. He said the commission’s study was done on its normal three-year course and cost the state just over $18,000.

Helen Mulligan, a Boston-based spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the centers just learned of the hospital’s accreditation by the group on Monday. The federal department doesn’t recertify hospitals until the reason for termination has been removed and the hospital provides assurance that it won’t happen again, Mulligan said.

DHHS has been battling with the federal centers since late 2013, when the centers pulled $20 million in funding from Riverview, more than half of the hospital’s annual budget. The federal government first threatened to yank the funding in August, citing the use of stun guns and handcuffs by Kennebec County corrections officers to subdue aggressive patients as a principal reason. Shortly after that, state legislators passed a law to establish a mental health ward at the Maine State Prison where certain forensic patients – people committed to the hospital by courts and who have been violent or criminal – would go for treatment. That ward at the Warren prison opened earlier this month.

But by October the federal government found Riverview hadn’t solved other staffing and governance issues and pulled the funding, even after the state took initial steps to comply with federal policy by removing certain patients from a Medicaid-funded part of the hospital to make a separate unit to serve aggressive patients.

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at:

mshepherd@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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