Monday, March 10, 2014
By Steve Mistler firstname.lastname@example.org
State House Bureau
AUGUSTA — The Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta is in danger of losing about $20 million in federal funding because the facility is out of compliance with federal guidelines.
This aerial photo taken on Tuesday April 30, 2013 shows The Riverview Psychiatric Center on banks of Kennbec River in Augusta. The Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta is in danger of losing about $20 million in federal funding because the facility is out of compliance with federal guidelines.
Joe Phelan / Staff Photographer
The Riverview Psychiatric Center is located on the east side of Augusta.
Joe Phelan / Staff Photographer
The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services alerted the Maine Department of Health Human Services on Wednesday that federal dollars will stop flowing to Riverview after Sept. 2. The federal reimbursement comprises more than half of the 92-bed psychiatric center's operating budget.
The issue has touched off a conflict between Gov. Paul LePage and the Democratic-controlled Legislature. The governor notified Democratic leaders about the funding cutoff through a news release issued Thursday evening. In the release, LePage blamed the Legislature for not funding his proposal to alleviate overcrowding problems at Riverview by creating a mental health ward at the Maine State Prison in Warren with forensic beds for individuals who pose a risk of serious harm to themselves or others because of mental illness.
Overcrowding and inadequate staffing to evaluate patients coming through the corrections system were among the violations cited by the federal government after the Maine Department of Health and Human Services performed an audit of the facility on March 29. According to documents provided by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the first violation notice sent by the federal government to Riverview arrived April 17. Subsequent notices identifying additional violations and rejections of the facility's mitigation plan were sent June 4 and July 29.
LePage's proposal, L.D. 1515, was first introduced to the Legislature on May 7 and the bill was unanimously endorsed by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. The proposal would have cost the state $3 million annually for about 15 new positions at the state prison.
Democratic lawmakers say they were unaware of the audit and the threat of losing federal funding until Thursday's news release. Additionally, Democratic leaders forwarded a June 25 email from DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew's legislative liaison, who asked lawmakers to carry over the bill until next session. The session begins in January, but lawmakers may return earlier to take up the governor's political appointments and, potentially, a state borrowing package.
The governor, in a written statement, urged lawmakers to take up the proposal sooner, but not before blaming them for funding other legislative priorities such as state aid to municipalities.
"Democratic leadership and certain members of the Appropriations Committee made the decision to fund other things, such as revenue sharing, while ignoring the needs of our mentally ill," LePage said. "Our Administration worked diligently to provide information to the Legislature knowing that certification and critical funding for Riverview was in jeopardy yet there was a failure to act."
On Friday, Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, House chairman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said Thursday was the first time he'd heard of the potential loss in federal funds.
The audit, and potential loss of federal funding, were not mentioned in any of the written testimony presented with L.D. 1515, according to legislative records.
Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, acknowledged in a statement sent Thursday that the issue is serious.
"I will be calling the governor to address this issue in the morning," said Alfond. "Now is not the time for partisan politics. We should move quickly to make sure we take care of our mentally ill and ensure public safety."
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