The LePage administration’s plan to build a new facility for mentally ill patients next to the Riverview Psychiatric Center has hit another roadblock.
The proposed 21-bed secure rehabilitation center has been approved by Augusta city officials and the Capitol Planning Commission. But LePage administration officials told legislative leaders they have found a provision of state law that requires a facility proposed in the capitol area to also get the approval of the Legislative Council, made up of 10 elected legislative leaders.
Members who serve on a facilities subcommittee got their first overview of the project from Deputy DHHS Commissioner Ricker Hamilton, who said the new unit addresses the principal issue raised by federal officials when they decertified Riverview three years ago and cut off federal funding for the hospital.
“They said we had far too many patients that were at the hospital that were not clinically, acutely ill and the percentage of those people at the hospital was too great,” he said.
Hamilton said the proposed new facility addresses that problem. It’s specifically designed for mentally ill patients who are charged with crimes but who no longer require hospitalization.
Hamilton is confident that when when patients are moved from Riverview to the new facility, federal certification and funding will be restored, the lack of which has been estimated to cost the facility more than $20 million a year.
Panel members also questioned how the new facility would be operated. Nick Snyder, legal counsel for the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, said the agency is limited in what it can say while the request for proposal process is underway, but he said the aim is to provide appropriate care.
“Each resident will have an individual service plan within 30 days of entry, and it will ensure that these people, these patients, receive what is tailored towards them for the best opportunity to eventually re-enter the community,” he said.
Leaders from both parties expressed appreciation for the testimony, but Freeport Democratic Rep. Sara Gideon, the assistant House majority leader, did not want to vote on approval without further legislative involvement.
“I don’t think this is properly in front of us if it hasn’t … gone through the process with the Health and Human Services Committee and the AFA committee,” she said.
But Hamilton argued DHHS has provided plenty of information to legislative committees about the project and said lawmakers have failed to act despite several agency proposals.
“Time and time again we have come with solutions asking for feedback, trying to self-fund knowing the funding isn’t done. From all of this time, since 2013, the answer has been no,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, a Republican from Lisbon Falls, agreed the subcommittee of the Legislative Council was not ready to take a vote.
“We need more conversation on this,” he said, “and at this stage of the game, what, 10 days before the election? So it’s a rough time to do this but I understand why this has to come before us now.”
The leaders at the meeting voted unanimously to send the question to the full Legislative Council. The full council meeting that was scheduled to follow the facilities meeting was postponed, but Senate President Mike Thibodeau’s office said another meeting will be scheduled before this council leaves office on Dec. 7.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.