The resignations of two top managers at Riverview Psychiatric Center are unrelated to the center’s problems with management and patient care, the court master assigned to oversee the state-run hospital said Friday.

Daniel Wathen, the former Maine Supreme Judicial Court chief justice who is the court-appointed master of the hospital, said Riverview’s superintendent, Jay Harper, submitted his resignation this week, citing health reasons. Wathen said Brendan Kirby, who was director of clinical services, submitted his resignation for personal reasons about a month ago and his last day was this week.

Harper will be leaving in a few weeks, Wathen said, adding that the Augusta hospital, which is run by the state Department of Health and Human Services, is making arrangements to fill both slots, at least temporarily. He said he didn’t want to disclose that plan yet because it hasn’t been completed and some changes could be made before it’s implemented.

“I’m cautiously comfortable” with the arrangements that have been made, Wathen said.

Calls to Harper were not immediately returned Friday. A receptionist at Riverview said Kirby’s name had been “crossed off the list” of extensions and no contact information was available.

Samantha Edwards, spokeswoman for DHHS, declined to comment on or confirm the resignations, saying it was a personnel matter.

The 92-bed hospital lost federal certification in 2013, largely due to staffing issues – shortages of both nurses and mental health counselors – that the state has had difficulty resolving.

After it lost certification, DHHS then missed a deadline to appeal the federal decision.

But the state continued to spend federal money on the hospital, anticipating that it would regain the certification. If the state fails to get re-certified, it could be forced to repay the estimated $20 million a year in federal funding it has used.

The federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services agency, which oversees Riverview funding, found numerous problems during an audit, including the use of stun guns, pepper spray and handcuffs on patients, improper record-keeping, medication errors and failure to report progress made by patients. As a result, the hospital lost eligibility for federal reimbursements, though state officials say they are developing plans for Riverview to be re-certified this year.

Persistent staffing shortages mean that workers are putting in overtime hours to cover shifts and some are performing duties that they weren’t hired for or trained to do.

Wathen said his latest visit suggested that mandatory overtime is down and nursing vacancies also are being filled. Just a few weeks ago, he said, there were about 25 openings for nurses and now there are about half that number.

Wathen said he visited the center Thursday and found that things seem to be running better than they were just a few weeks ago. He said that more nurses and mental health workers are on the job and there were six vacant beds at the center. While the operation isn’t where it should be, Wathen said, the center is “heading in the right direction.”

Still, disputes over its future remain.

Lawmakers and Gov. Paul LePage are at odds over how to address the issues at the psychiatric center. The Legislature has rejected LePage’s efforts to create a facility at the Maine State Prison that could accept Riverview’s forensic patients, those whom the courts have found not criminally responsible or incompetent to stand trial for crimes because of mental illness.

 


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