It’s unclear how Gov. Paul LePage’s administration plans to pay a contractor to run a new psychiatric facility in Bangor after a former Maine Supreme Judicial Court chief justice called it into question this week. But the administration still plans to move ahead and sign a contract with Correct Care Recovery Solutions, the Tennessee company that would run the facility for the state.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services proposed redirecting about $5.4 million in state money that was earmarked for local mental health services to pay the contractor to run the 16-bed facility that’s being built on the campus of the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center, according to a document that Daniel Wathen filed Tuesday in Kennebec County Superior Court.
Wathen is the courtmaster in charge of monitoring the state’s compliance with a decades-old court order that requires improvements to its mental health services system.
In his filing, Wathen said that use would violate both the Legislature’s intent and the terms of the consent decree that requires the state to continue improving its mental health services.
Maine DHHS has been negotiating with Correct Care Recovery Solutions to run the 16-bed unit in Bangor, which would serve as a “step-down” facility for people who no longer need the level of care provided at the state’s Riverview Psychiatric Hospital in Augusta that lost its federal accreditation in 2013.
In his court filing, Wathen said DHHS was days away from finalizing the contract with Correct Care.
A spokeswoman for LePage acknowledged Wathen’s recent filing, writing in an emailed statement that “we value and appreciate [Wathen’s] recommendation and will take it under advisement as we move forward with this project, which is aimed at increasing mental health capacity in the State and supporting the ongoing improvements at Riverview Psychiatric Center.”
The spokeswoman, Julie Rabinowitz, confirmed that the administration expects to finalize its contract with Correct Care Recovery Solutions soon.
She did not directly respond to questions about how the administration plans to pay for it or whether it would challenge Wathen’s recommendation in court.
“The contract does not specify the use of consent decree funds,” Rabinowitz wrote. “It only specifies general funds as the source. If the funds are not an appropriate source then the department has until April at the earliest to identify an alternative funding source for the unit — one which the justice sees as necessary, and we agree with him.”
Rabinowitz did not answer a follow-up question about the origin of that April timeline.
For about 15 years, Wathen has served as the courtmaster overseeing the Maine Mental Health Consent Decree. That decree had its beginnings in the early 1990s, when residents of the former Augusta Mental Health Institute, or AMHI, sued the state over poor conditions and overcrowding.
Now that Wathen has filed his recommendation, its terms will become binding after 30 days if the LePage administration or other parties do not file a court petition challenging it, he said in an interview.
“That’s the basic mechanism for the courtmaster to sort of set the agenda on particular things,” he said, adding that he has made about 10 such recommendations during his time in that role.
While Wathen supports the proposal to open the secure, intermediary facility in Bangor, he objected to the funding source that Maine DHHS had identified for the contract with Correct Care Recovery Solutions, he said.
The department was preparing to sign that contract “within a period of days, which is why I filed the recommendation as quickly as I did,” he said. “My real concern is that these were funds that were appropriated for a particular purpose. My concern is that they not be used for another purpose.”
Wathen didn’t know how the administration of LePage, a Republican, would respond to his recommendation.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for Democratic Gov.-elect Janet Mills, who is due to take office Jan. 2, declined to comment on her plans for the step-down facility in Bangor.
Earlier this week, Mills sent letters to LePage administration officials asking them not to enter into new state contracts in the weeks before she takes office.