An out-of-state firm complied with a request from the incoming Mills administration last month and agreed not to sign a contract offered in the waning days of the LePage administration to operate a new psychiatric center under construction in Bangor.

That leaves the decisions on how to operate the facility – such as whether it would be run privately or by the state – to the Mills administration.

The contract between the state and Tennessee-based Correct Care Solutions was being finalized before a former Maine Supreme Judicial Court justice objected in court in December.

“The contract was not finalized before the changing of the guard,” Daniel Wathen, the former justice, said in an interview Monday, referring to Gov. Janet Mills taking office on Jan. 2.

Wathen is a special court master, a legal watchdog charged with protecting the rights of certain mental health patients, based on a landmark 1990 consent decree that resulted from problems at the former Augusta Mental Health Institute.

The new step-down facility, also called the Secure Residential Treatment Facility, is intended to serve patients transitioning out of the state-run Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta into community-based programs, such as group homes. Patients still would need residential care, but not intensive, hospital-level care.

Mills spokesman Scott Ogden said Monday that Correct Care, “at the request” of Mills officials, did not sign the contract.

“Governor Mills has previously expressed concerns about the LePage administration’s pursuit of the proposed step-down facility in Bangor, and, at the request of the then-incoming administration, Correct Care Solutions agreed not to sign the contract. Now the (Mills) administration is reviewing the contract negotiated by the LePage administration, continuing discussions with Correct Care, and conducting a thorough evaluation of all aspects of the facility to determine in the coming weeks and months the best path forward.”

Correct Care officials did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

However, Rep. Drew Gattine, a Westbrook Democrat and a chair of the Legislature’s appropriations committee, said in a tweet Monday evening that the facility should be “state run” and constructed in Augusta, where it was originally proposed to be built before Gov. Paul LePage got into a dispute with lawmakers over the location.

“I have submitted a bill requiring that the new facility be state-run, that it be built in Augusta (as recommended), that it be governed by publicly developed rules and that stakeholders be engaged in its creation,” Gattine tweeted.

Wathen filed a recommendation in mid-December in Kennebec County Superior Court to block the $5.4 million funding plan by the LePage administration for the new 16-bed psychiatric facility, arguing that the way the LePage administration had planned to fund the operations, by using surplus consent decree funding, was illegal.

Any surplus money from the $5 million per year in general fund money earmarked to comply with the consent decree is supposed to be set aside for people who need community mental health services, such as in-home care or medication management, Wathen argued in court.

LePage administration officials said in December that the contract could be signed anyway, regardless of Wathen’s objections, because the funding could come from somewhere else. On Monday, Wathen said his court recommendation is now moot without a signed contract. Wathen said Mills administration officials told him they do not intend to use consent decree funding to operate the Bangor facility.

Mills sent a letter in December to LePage officials asking them not to finalize any more contracts with private vendors before she took office in January, a request LePage rejected.

Jenna Mehnert, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine, said that since the contract wasn’t signed, the state should take time to review its options and determine not only who should run the facility, but how it could be best used. “We should have a really open and inclusive process,” Mehnert said. “We should have a conversation about what the need is and how we could use this facility.”

Wathen said he doesn’t have an opinion about who should run the facility or what patients should be served there, but that Maine has a “capacity problem” and that the new 16-bed center will help address capacity issues.

Correct Care operates the “intensive mental health unit” at the Maine State Prison. It also runs a facility in South Carolina where Maine sends mental health patients that cannot be accommodated at existing facilities in-state.

There are currently two such patients in South Carolina, Mehnert said. In November, a Bangor man, James N. Staples, 67, died at the Correct Care facility in South Carolina. Little information about the circumstances of his death has been disclosed.

Mehnert hopes that with the new facility, patients will no longer be sent out of state and can instead be housed in a secure area of the new mental health center.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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