AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has announced a plan to house forensic mental health patients at the Windham Correctional Center.
It’s part of a major proposal that would delay the planned renovation of Windham, and lawmakers tried to get more details at a hearing Friday at the State House.
During MPBN’s call-in radio program Maine Calling, LePage was asked what could be done to improve the state’s response to the ongoing opioid drug crisis. The governor surprised many by indicating that he wants to delay action on a bill that would have renovated the Windham Correctional Center so that he can develop another plan that would bring forensic patients there.
“I am going to be ready shortly to give a comprehensive conceptual framework of what we want to do and then we’ll get the rest of the plans together,” LePage says.
The plan is aimed at helping the state win back federal recertification for the Riverview Psychiatric Center, and $20 million in forfeited Medicaid payments that were lost due to noncompliance issues that arose over patient care.
LePage’s plan is also expected to address serious infrastructure issues at the aging prison, which has been planning a $173 million renovation. It appears the administration will instead substitute a bill with provisions for both Windham and Riverview.
Members of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee Friday sought more details from Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew. Sen. Bill Diamond, a Democrat from Windham, pressed Mayhew on the nature of the governor’s plans.
“Have there been discussions with you or your staff with the governor and his staff — any combination of that — that is talking about the long-term solution in the future bringing the Riverview patients, on the forensic side at least, to an expanded correctional center or prison, actually, in Windham?” Diamond says.
“As you know, nothing happens without any action taken by this Legislature, so I’m sure whatever proposal may be discussed will certainly be before your committee,” she says.
But Mayhew says the governor believes the state should not consider correctional needs alone as lawmakers weigh a major borrowing plan such as the one that would pay for the Windham infrastructure upgrades.
“But that we are also providing the services, the mental health services, both for those who are in county jails and the Maine state prisons but also the role today, unfortunately, that we struggle with at the Riverview Psychiatric Center to deal with a number of our forensic patients that may need a different environment and a higher level of focus that could be provided at that type of a facility,” she says.
Both Democrats and Republicans say they are awaiting further details on the proposal that were not revealed as part of Mayhew’s response to the committee.
Among them is Rep. Drew Gattine, a Westbrook Democrat who co-chairs the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. Gattine says he doesn’t want to see the state wind up in another situation in which criminals are co-housed with those being treated for mental illness.
“People who have been turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services for health care treatment because they’re mentally ill need to have their treatment and their management undertaken by the Department of Health and Human Services,” he says, “not by a prison and not in a corrections environment.”
Meanwhile, Sen. David Burns, a Whiting Republican who sits on the oversight committee and the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, says he hopes the administration isn’t planning to use Windham to house all of the state’s mentally ill inmates.
“If the details are to put all of our eggs in one basket, yeah, I have a real problem with that,” Burns says.
Lawmakers hope to receive more details on the plan when the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee takes up the Windham bonding bill on Feb. 1.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public Broadcasting Network.