DHHS Commissioner Blames Growth In Court Ordered Patients For Riverview Problems; Urges Passage Of LePage’s Plan
Lawmakers questioned state officials Thursday about the potentially devastating loss of $20 million in federal funding for the Riverview Psychiatric Hospital in Augusta.Last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) told the Maine Department of Health and Human Services they would lose more than half their budget, because they’re out of compliance with federal regulations.This after numerous attacks on staff and a pair of inspections by federal officials revealed violations, including the use of stun guns and handcuffs to control unruly patients at Riverview.”Federal regulations governing the hospital are not well suited for a hospital that is managing an increasing court-ordered population,” DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew told the 8 members of the Appropriations Committee who were on-hand Thursday. “For instance, CMS does not allow hospital staff to utilize typical law enforcement tools to manage aggressive patients.”Mayhew told the committee the increasing number of court-ordered patients is to blame. Now that roughly 50 of the 92 beds at Riverview are routinely used by those patients, there’s nowhere to put other patients who voluntarily check themselves in for treatment of mental illness.Mayhew urged lawmakers to pass Governor LePage’s plan, LD 1515, to address the situation. Months ago, the governor proposed building a new unit at the Maine State Prison in Warren to house those dangerous patients.”By having a unit within the Maine State Prison, clients who may not be safely managed at Riverview can go directly there for restoration to competency and to complete court ordered evaluations for criminal responsibility.”Some members of the committee worry the governor’s plan doesn’t go far enough to fix all the issues at Riverview. It’s likely the plan will be tweaked by the committee in time to vote on next week, when lawmakers return to the state house to vote on a new $149.5 million bond initiative passed unanimously by the committee Thursday.But the clock is ticking. If the hospital’s corrective action plan is not approved by September 2, Riverview will lose their federal funding.Lawmakers will vote on the bond package August 29 and hope to also vote on an amended version of the governor’s bill, LD 1515.