AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee will not have to subpoena members of the governor’s administration to compel them to answer questions about the Riverview Psychiatric Center.
Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew and Riverview Superintendent Jay Harper have agreed to meet with the committee on Jan. 22.
“We appreciate their cooperation and look forward to gathering information they can give us,” said committee co-chairman Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston.
The Government Oversight Committee voted 11-1 earlier this month to ask Mayhew and Harper to appear to talk about staffing concerns at the state hospital in Augusta.
The commissioner and the superintendent had been asked to appear previously, with requests sent through the governor’s office. The governor’s office had declined on Harper’s behalf, saying it would be more appropriate to request Mayhew’s attendance. It had declined on Mayhew’s behalf, saying it had been informed that her schedule did not allow her to attend.
On Dec. 3, the committee said it would again ask Mayhew and Harper to appear. It would ask them to attend one of its next two meetings: Jan. 8 or Jan. 22, whichever date was most convenient, and would seek a response within 10 days. If the response was not favorable, it would subpoena Mayhew and Harper to compel them to appear.
Mayhew quickly blasted the subpoena vote, calling it “ludicrous” to expect any commissioner to be at the beck and call of the Government Oversight Committee.
She said department staff had discussed Riverview with the Health and Human Services Committee and the Appropriations Committee multiple times and the committees received “volumes of information from countless documents and discussions with staff.”
“The assertion that the department has refused to address questions or clarify answers is patently false,” she said in a statement released at the time.
However, committee members said they were frustrated by a pattern of no-shows by members of Gov. Paul LePage’s administration, not only to the Government Oversight Committee but also to other legislative committees and commissions. The co-chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, said DHHS also refused twice recently to appear before his committee to talk about Riverview.
The Government Oversight Committee is the only legislative committee with subpoena power.
Soon after the Dec. 3 vote, Mayhew and Harper said they would appear. The governor’s office contacted the head of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, the Government Oversight Committee’s support and investigative arm, and said it had already approved Mayhew’s attendance — she just hadn’t been able to make it on Dec. 3.
Riverview is a 92-bed, state-run psychiatric hospital with a 44-bed unit to serve forensic patients — those involved with the criminal justice system — and a 48-bed unit to serve civil patients. The hospital has struggled in recent years, including losing its federal certification and facing court scrutiny for failing to admit mentally ill jail inmates.
In a Nov. 22 story in the Sun Journal, advocates, families, jail officials, lawyers and lawmakers said Maine jails are being inundated with mentally ill inmates they can’t care for, creating a crisis for jails and hurting people with mental health problems. Although inmates can be sent to Riverview, many people said the hospital doesn’t take enough inmates to help the problem.
Government Oversight Committee members want to ask Mayhew and Harper about longstanding staffing concerns at the hospital.
A spokeswoman for DHHS did not return a request Monday seeking comment from Mayhew and Harper.