Rodney Bouffard, a special education teacher by training, has become a turnaround expert of sorts for some of Maine’s most troubled institutions.

After overseeing the closure of the Pineland Center in New Gloucester, a state-run home for the developmentally disabled that was beset by dysfunction, Bouffard became superintendent of the Augusta Mental Health Institute and helped forestall a federal investigation, getting the psychiatric hospital in line as it wound down toward its eventual closure.

Then he led the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland as it addressed allegations of abuse and became a model juvenile corrections facility.

Those experiences make him the right person for his new job: superintendent of Riverview Psychiatric Center, AMHI’s successor, where low staff morale and a nearly three-year fight for federal recertification have hindered the hospital’s ability to deliver care.

It won’t take long to find out if the confidence in Bouffard is warranted.

Just a few days into his tenure, Bouffard is confident that he can fix almost immediately what is Riverview’s foundational problem – staffing shortages that have run direct-care workers to the bone in the last year-plus, threatening worker safety and making clinical gains more difficult.

As of late January, nearly one-third of nursing positions and one-tenth of mental health worker positions were empty, about one-seventh of all positions at the hospital.

As a result, Riverview staff endured more than 2,000 hours of overtime a month over the last year, much of it mandated and handed out at the last minute, forcing workers to extend shifts without notice.

The situation has left nurses and mental health workers tired and frustrated. Many have left Riverview for better pay and hours, and the ones still there are struggling to do their jobs in a difficult atmosphere.

Bouffard will have some help on that end, as lawmakers last week approved, over a veto by Gov. LePage, a bill to provide raises to nurses and mental health workers at Riverview and Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Hospital in Bangor, making the pay in those positions more competitive with other employers.

These workers are on the front lines at the hospital, providing day-to-day, face-to-face interactions with patients in desperate need of good, attentive care. There is no fixing Riverview without first fixing the staffing problems, and Bouffard knows it.

“That hospital is only going to be as good as the people who essentially are interacting with the patients, so if (the workers) can plan on whatever their day is going to be, they’re going to be a lot happier,” Bouffard told the Kennebec Journal. “My sense is if I can resolve that, get a little more infrastructure on the units, I think we can really be moving the place in the right direction.”

The staffing shortage can be solved in four to six weeks, he said, setting the stage for other improvements. If so, it’s a good shot that Riverview will be another successful turnaround for Bouffard.

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