DHHS fires chief of troubled Riverview Psychiatric Center

Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, in December.
Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, in December.
Posted March 05, 2014, at 12:08 p.m.
Last modified March 05, 2014, at 3:58 p.m.
Mary Louise McEwen goes through charts that describe steps she is taking to improve care at Bangor Mental Health Institute, of which she was superintendent, in this 2002 file photo.
Mary Louise McEwen goes through charts that describe steps she is taking to improve care at Bangor Mental Health Institute, of which she was superintendent, in this 2002 file photo. Buy Photo

AUGUSTA, Maine — Riverview Psychiatric Center Superintendent Mary Louise McEwen has been terminated after five years on the job, according to Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

“In evaluating where Riverview Psychiatric Center is today and our vision for the hospital moving forward, I felt that a change in leadership gave us the best opportunity to achieve that vision,” said Mayhew in a written statement Wednesday morning. “I appreciate Ms. McEwen’s years of service and wish her success in future endeavors.”

Dr. Brendan Kirby, the hospital’s medical director, will take over McEwen’s duties until Mayhew appoints an acting superintendent. Appointment of the Riverview is at the sole discretion of the DHHS commissioner.

McEwen has worked in the mental health field for 23 years, according to biographical information about her which is posted on the Department of Health and Human Services’ website. She holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s degree in business administration. She served for 28 years with the Maine Air National Guard before retiring from that post. She joined Riverview in 2009, when she was appointed to lead the organization in June 2009 by then-DHHS Commissioner Brenda Harvey.

Riverview is a 92-bed state-run mental health hospital in Augusta that houses some of the most troubled patients in Maine, including some who have committed violent crimes but were found by the judicial system to be not responsible because of mental incapacity.

Riverview has been at the center of turmoil in recent months since the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services notified the state in October 2013 that it was terminating Riverview’s Medicaid Provider Agreement because of overcrowding, inadequate staff and the use of methods such as handcuffs and Tasers to subdue violent patients.

Riverview did receive some positive news last month when the Joint Commission, a nonprofit accrediting organization, gave River its “Gold Seal of Approval” for safety and quality of care. Maine is still appealing the hospital’s lost accreditation with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“Riverview Psychiatric Center will continue moving forward its efforts to reinforce a patient-centered culture that is focused on recovery, while ensuring safety for the clients, visitors and staff,” said Mayhew, who offered no further details because this is a personnel matter.

Members of Democratic leadership in the Legislature said they hope the change in leadership will help change the pattern of what they called “mismanagement” in the Department of Health and Human Services.

“This hopefully will get Riverview back on track serving the state of Maine in a productive way, as opposed to the management that’s been going on over there,” said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Anne Haskell, D-Portland, who said McEwen’s ouster is part of a pattern in recent years of administrative turnover in DHHS. “More leadership changes have happened over in that department under this administration than I’ve seen in the years that I have been here. There have been a lot of changes and a lot of senior people who have left. I don’t think you can deny that as a fact.”

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said Democrats are politicizing the issue.

“Democratic politicians who find criticism in the commissioner making a personnel decision should stop micromanaging departments just to score political points. That’s not governing; that’s politics,” said Fredette in a prepared statement. “You can tell it’s political because they criticized the management of Riverview and now they’re criticizing changes being made there. As for past changes made at DHHS, Gov. LePage was elected to bring a culture change to state government and I have seen in my own interactions with departments and feedback from constituents that his administration has been extremely successful at that.

Efforts to reach McEwen on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

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