December 11, 2013

Space crunch at Riverview could mean reopening group homes

Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, sought the same sites for veterans.

By Betty Adams
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — With 72 of 92 beds occupied at Riverview Psychiatric Center, it hardly seems to be at a loss for space. However, there’s a waiting list to enter and a considerable wait to leave.

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Riverview Psychiatric Center is located on the east side of Augusta.

Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal

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Housing proposal: This photo taken in NOvember on Arsenal Heights in Augusta shows one of the four former group homes that once again could become temporary housing for those who no longer need the level of care provided at RIverview Psychiatric Center.

Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

Additional Photos Below

So the court master charged with overseeing a consent agreement that affects Riverview is suggesting the state reopen two group homes on state grounds to house 10 people who have been given, or anticipate receiving, court permission to leave the hospital and transition to a group home setting.

Daniel Wathen, who is also a former Maine Supreme Judicial Court chief justice, told a legislative committee Tuesday that some of the 53 forensic patients — those there under court order — are so acutely ill that they require higher ratios of staff to patients, which is why hospital officials say not all the beds can be occupied.

The Arsenal Heights group homes, on the same property as the state hospital, were closed about a year ago, and the occupants moved to group living facilities on Glenridge Drive and Green Street in Augusta. That move made those former patients eligible for federal Social Security benefits. They were denied them while living on state property.

Wathen had no cost estimate for the move, but he said that would allow some room for the 12 people now under court order to be held at Riverview. Eight have been ordered to receive long-term forensic evaluations at the hospital, three have been deemed incompetent to stand trial and one has been found not criminally responsible. In the meantime, they are being held in jails; six other people are awaiting transfers to Riverview from jail.

Wathen said he is contemplating making a formal recommendation to reopen those homes. “There are six people currently cleared and have permission to leave; four of those have been waiting six months,” Wathen said. “Three or more could be ready to leave in the next couple of months.”

If he does recommend the reopening, the state has to comply or go to court to tell a judge why it is not. Wathen said officials had looked at opening a group home in the Bowdoinham area, but that has proved unfeasible.

Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, already has proposed using the Arsenal Heights group homes to house homeless and transitioning veterans. A long-standing plan had called for the homes to be demolished once Riverview was no longer using them. However, he said the demolition is estimated to cost $100,000. His proposal, he said, would “save the same money, help a nonprofit and help homeless veterans.” He said Tuesday the properties are in the possession of the Bureau of General Services, which is maintaining them.

“It’s more complicated than just putting people back in,” Wilson said. “There were problems when we moved those people out of those group homes, and those problems remain.”

He said he had not heard of any plans by Riverview or other state officials to reuse the buildings.

“There’s a great need, so the needs ought to be compared,” said Wathen, who indicated he was aware of Wilson’s proposal.

The legislative committee on health and human services had a daylong hearing Tuesday covering a variety of topics, with concerns about Riverview first on the list.

As the hearing began, committee members received a 50-plus-page document from the department with answers to a number of questions posed at a Nov. 23 meeting. Those concerned the state’s progress appealing Riverview’s loss of its Medicare provider agreement, which cost it eligibility for some federal funds.

The department’s written response from Commissioner Mary Mayhew said documents in the appeal are due in January, and an administrative law judge within the federal Department of Health and Human Services will rule some time after that.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Housing proposal: This photo taken in November on Arsenal Heights in Augusta shows two of the four former group homes that could become temporary housing for those who no longer need the level of care provided at Riverview Psychiatric Center. The four houses on the former Augusta Mental Health Institute campus are near the Kennebec Arsenal on the east side of Augusta.

Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

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Daniel Wathen

File Photo


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