AUGUSTA — Robert “Jay” Harper was named acting superintendent of Riverview Psychiatric Center on Wednesday, Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew announced. He succeeds Mary Louise McEwen, who was let go a week ago after almost five years as superintendent.

“Jay’s experience and his vision make him an excellent fit for Riverview Psychiatric Center,” Mayhew said in a prepared statement. “He believes in leadership that is team-based and focuses on engaging all staff in sustaining an environment that is recovery-oriented and offers the highest quality of mental health services and treatment.”

Most recently, Harper was a patient advocate with the Disability Rights Center of Maine, a federally funded nonprofit advocacy group, providing support to Riverview patients. The hospital serves both civil and forensic patients – those committed to state custody after being found not responsible for crimes, those being examined for competency to stand trial, and those declared incompetent to stand trial and being treated to restore competency.

Harper, of Litchfield, has worked in state government in both Maine and Massachusetts, is a former director of the Maine Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, and worked with the Bureau of Adult Community Mental Health.

“We are pleased that someone with such diverse experience and a leadership philosophy that aligns with our vision has joined our team,” Mayhew said.

The 92-bed Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, which opened in 2004, has come under federal scrutiny over the way it confines dangerous patients.

Both Harper and McEwen talked to the Legislature’s Forensic Mental Health Services Oversight Committee in early December about the operations of the hospital’s Lower Saco Unit, where the most severely mentally ill and potentially dangerous patients are usually housed. The unit lost its certification for federal reimbursements last fall, costing the hospital an estimated $20 million annually.

Harper holds an undergraduate degree from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and a graduate degree from Harvard University, completing the Executive Leadership Program in Mental Health Administration at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. He also completed the program of the Maine Executive Leadership Institute at Maine Maritime Academy and holds a master’s degree in psychology from Naropa University in Boulder, Colo. He is a member of the adjunct faculty (mental health and human services) at the University of Maine in Augusta.

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