LePage mismanagement jeopardizes safety, risks lawsuits and budget overruns
by Ramona du Houx
Top Democratic lawmakers in the Maine House are raising concerns about a potential crisis at the state’s troubled Riverview Psychiatric Facility. Lawmakers are warning against a proposal by Governor Paul LePage to cease efforts to comply with federal patient and worker safety rules.
In 2013, mismanagement and dangerous conditions at the facility prompted the Federal government to pull the hospitals certification and the $20 million in funding that comes with it. Federal officials have cited numerous problems at the state-run hospital related to patient and workers safety following an incident where tasers and handcuffs were used on patients.
“Since taking office, Gov. Paul LePage's Department of Health and Human Services has been a case study in government waste and mismanagement,” said Congressman Mike Michaud. “His mismanagement of Riverview Psychiatric Center is the pinnacle of this and it needs to be addressed immediately. The list of issues at Riverview is exhaustive, troubling and a black eye on this administration and state. Rather than pledging to Mainers that he will address these issues, Gov. LePage is choosing to give up and throw away millions of dollars in funding. His inaction makes Maine vulnerable to lawsuits, puts Riverview on the brink of crisis and leaves Maine taxpayers to foot the bill for his failed leadership.”
According to a report on MPBN, LePage said his administration could cease efforts to get recertified and comply with federal rules. He said, “You know, frankly, I think we ought to just go at it alone and not take the federal money," LePage says.
Westbrook State Lawmaker Rep. Drew Gattine issued a strong warning against the Governor’s suggestion.
“To be very clear, Governor LePage’s suggestion would put patient and worker safety in jeopardy,” said Gattine, who chaired a bipartisan legislative oversight commission for the hospital. “This isn’t federal bureaucratic red tape we are talking about; it’s standard safety and security procedures meant to protect those at the facility. Hospitals across our state manage to keep their federal certification. There is no reason why Riverview should be any different, if it’s managed well by the state.”
Lawmakers have urged the state to improve conditions, providing additional funding for staff at the facility and expanded the mental health unit at Warren Prison to reduce high risk patient load at Riverview.
The House co-chair of the budget-writing committee, State Rep. Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston, shared Gattine’s concerns.
“It’s the pinnacle of mismanagement to dismiss these federal rules meant to protect patient and worker safety,” said Rotundo. “We risk lawsuits and ongoing budget challenges if we cease to comply with the federal law.”
State lawmakers had set aside one-time funding in the state budget earlier this year for the psychiatric facility.
“We had assurances from the administration that they would seek to comply with federal standards and be re-certified in the future,” added Rotundo. “Giving up on that would create a new budget hole in future years, putting at risk funding for other key programs that help our seniors or schools or our towns.”
Gattine and Rotundo said they would be seeking further clarification from Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.