August 25, 2013

Our View: Forensic patients swamp state mental hospital

People with mental illness are put at risk or denied care because of insufficient resources.

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Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta has been overwhelmed with forensic patients, many of them volatile, who would be better treated in the state prison. This overflow also means other patients are rejected.

The Associated Press

At Riverview, the overflow of forensic patients means other patients are rejected. If care is not available elsewhere, the patients end up on the street, or perhaps at county jail. Elsewhere, cutbacks eliminate the opportunity for early intervention, which can lessen the severity of mental illness, lowering a patient's suffering as well as the future cost of providing care.

In any case, their condition worsens and the costs associated with their care increase.


A legislative committee on Thursday agreed to have a panel of mental health interests, legislators and state officials address the problems at Riverview. On the table is L.D. 1515, proposed by Gov. Paul Le- Page earlier this year to create a new mental health unit at the Maine State Prison in Warren.

It is clear that the forensic patients should be in their own unit at the prison, a setup that has worked in other states. The unit would cost more than $3 million, but maintaining the current structure is not an option, and if it were, it would prove more costly in the long run.

As for Riverview, it's hard to say how much damage has been done to the culture there. It is concerning that two plans proposed to solve the problems that surfaced in the audit were rejected. A third plan must be approved by Sept. 2 to save the funding.

It bears watching how the hospital responds, and if the legislative attention shifts in any way the government approach to funding mental illness treatment. There is no doubt that budget conditions are challenging, but it makes little sense to spend less now only to be forced to pay more later.


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