Captitol building in Augusta, ME. Photo by Ramona du Houx
Members of the Maine's Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee on September 14th questioned DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew about the ongoing controversies at the state-run Riverview Psychiatric Facility.
Last month, a federal judge ruled the state had missed its chance to appeal the federal government’s decision to decertify Riverview, raising questions about the future of the hospital.
Decertification in 2013 -- caused by overcrowding, the use of stun guns, pepper spray and handcuffs on patients, failure to actually treat patients, serious paperwork issues and more -- has put at risk $28 million in federal funding so far, leaving Maine taxpayers to fill this ongoing budget gap. But instead of pulling out all the stops to obtain certification and federal funding once again, the administration has challenged the federal government on its own standards.
“The department’s failure to meet the deadline for appeal makes me wonder how committed this administration is regaining federal certification,” said Sen. Linda Valentino, a Democrat from Saco. “Certification is a critical source of funding and without it Maine taxpayers will have to come up with an additional $20 million in this budget. But instead of solutions, this administration favors legal gymnastics in an effort to absolve themselves of any responsibility.”
The Legislature has already responded to the crisis at Riverview by passing five emergency funding bills totaling $5 million. While other states manage to run psychiatric facilities that safeguard patient treatment and worker safety, the LePage administration has failed time and again to meet even the most basic standards.
Riverview is the only hospital in the state that has failed to meet minimum federal standards.
“For two years now the Legislature has approved request after request from the LePage administration for emergency funding for the hospital with little progress to date,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the House chair of the Appropriations committee. “Instead of taking responsibility, the administration is blaming the federal government, the workers and the Legislature for its failures. Five years ago, when this administration took over we had a hospital that was certified now we don’t.”
Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, pressed Mayhew for details on the administration’s plan to offload some patients at Riverview to an undetermined private corporation.
“We must have details on this plan before we can consider such a seismic shift in how the state treats these patients,” said Grant. “So far, we have not been provided nearly the level of information we need to consider such a change.”
The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee will meet again on October 14.