Maine faces a difficult and ongoing crisis with regard to people with mental illness.

This plays out daily in emergency rooms across the state, where patients with acute and difficult-to-manage mental illnesses can wait for days and sometimes weeks for a bed at a qualified facility. The state’s authorization earlier this year to open an additional unit at Spring Harbor Hospital – a MaineHealth member affiliated with both Maine Medical Center and Maine Behavioral Healthcare – provided some relief, but more needs to be done.

Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta continues to play an important role in the continuum of services available to persons experiencing prolonged episodes of severe symptoms. Recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cited deficiencies at Riverview, including the need to provide appropriate housing and treatment options to forensic patients who no longer need hospital-level care.

The Department of Health and Human Services has proposed building a “step-down” unit for these patients. With the right programming and staffing, such a unit would both allow patients to receive appropriate levels of treatment and free up scarce hospital beds in the hospital for nonforensic psychiatric patients.

From our vantage point as organizations that work with people who struggle with major mental illnesses, we know that a well-run step-down treatment facility will provide qualified forensic patients with more appropriate care in a more appropriate setting. Additionally, it will free up hospital beds at Riverview that are desperately needed by other patients.

We hope that the Legislature and the governor will work together to quickly approve a step-down unit for forensic patients at Riverview who need that level of care, as well as find compromise on the larger issue, taken up in the last Legislature, of providing step-down options for all patients needing structured support short of hospitalization.

Richard Petersen

president and CEO, Maine Medical Center


Stephen Merz

president and CEO, Maine Behavioral Healthcare


CEO, Spring Harbor Hospital


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