Feds could cut $20M from Maine psych hospital

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Democratic legislators said Friday they intend to work with Republican Gov. Paul LePage to make sure a state psychiatric hospital doesn’t see more than half its operating budget stripped away by the federal government for failing to meet certification standards.

LePage blamed the Democratic-controlled Legislature for failing to act on his bill to create a mental health wing within the Maine State Prison to cut down on overcrowding at the 92-bed Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services cited overcrowding and inadequate staffing for its threat to withhold $20 million by Sept. 2.

While LePage accused Democratic leadership of misplaced priorities, Democrats said the LePage administration had recommended holding his $3 million proposal over for the next legislative session in January.

Democratic leaders said they were hopeful for a swift solution.

“Now is not the time for partisan politics,” Senate President Justin Alfond said. “We should move quickly to make sure we take care of our mentally ill and ensure public safety.”

The LePage administration said more than half the Riverview Psychiatric Center’s beds are occupied by corrections system patients who pose greater risks for physical harm to themselves or others. Riverview, because it’s not a prison, doesn’t have security or protocols for dealing with those patients.

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the administration decided to hold over the governor’s bill because it feared the bill was going to be killed by Democrats. Now the administration is looking at a solution, and Bennett didn’t rule out a special session to address the Riverview certification.

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said the governor’s plan for creating a new forensic psychiatric unit in the state prison must be part of the solution.

“We believe that creating a mental health unit within the Department of Corrections will allow for another option for those in our jails who are in desperate need of mental health treatment, create a safer environment at Riverview and allow us to serve the civil and forensic clients that the hospital was designed to help,” she said in a statement.

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