BANGOR, Maine — The state plans to hire an outside provider to run a psychiatric facility in Bangor.
The plan to outsource oversight of the facility drew sharp criticism from a leading Democratic legislator, who accused Gov. Paul LePage of trying to undermine the Legislature’s role in determining how Maine should care for people with acute mental illness.
LePage’s administration earlier this month put out a call for a developer to purchase state-owned land at 159 Hogan Road to build an 8,300-square-foot, secure forensic rehabilitation facility that it would lease for the next 30 years. The facility would house patients found not responsible for crimes they have committed or who are unfit for trial.
“The state will be conducting a separate competitive procurement that seeks a provider to perform the day-to-day operations of the facility,” said David Heidrich, Jr., Department of Administrative and Financial Services director of communications.
But Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, the Democrats’ long-standing point person on health and human services issues, said Thursday that he and other legislators believe that the state should run the facility, and questioned how it would pick a provider.
“We want to know what are the vendor qualifications, what is the scope of the treatment, what is the security,” Gattine said. “It’s been developed in a vacuum without input from stakeholders.”
“I think that, really going back for over a century, it’s been a state function to take care of forensic patients. We have a great track record,” he said.
The governor’s office has pitched the new facility as the state’s best hope for recertification of Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, which lost its federal accreditation in 2013 for overcrowding, inadequate staffing and for using handcuffs and stun guns to subdue violent patients.
“This happens when the staff doesn’t get the support they need,” Gattine said of the decertification. “If the state wants to go in a different direction, I think it’s the state’s responsibility to explain to us why,” he added later.
The governor and Riverview officials say the 92-bed facility is filled with patients who no longer need hospital level care, and they take up much needed beds for those in crisis.
Riverview opened in 2004, replacing the Augusta Mental Health Institute, which began in 1840 as the Maine Insane Hospital. Its roles include treating and housing violent offenders deemed unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible, and to assess those charged with crimes to determine whether they understand the charges against them and are competent to stand trial.
When the state issued its May 1 request for contractors and developers to register their interest in building a new forensic psychiatric facility in Bangor, Gattine saw it as another maneuver to circumvent legislative approval.
“I think everything he’s been doing in respect to Riverview had been a tactic to get around having to engage with the Legislature,” the Westbrook representative said. “It’s a continued attempt not to engage with the Legislature and to push through or force through something without any public discussion.”
The developer for the project should be selected by mid-August and construction is expected to begin in April 2018 with a March 2019 opening date.