Gov. Janet Mills’ incoming administration asked an out-of-state company not to sign a contract the company had negotiated with the state to run a new psychiatric facility that’s under construction in Bangor.
The company agreed, and now the contract that former Gov. Paul LePage’s administration negotiated with Tennessee-based Correct Care Recovery Solutions still hasn’t been finalized. That means Mills, who was inaugurated last week, will be able to change the course of the proposed, 16-bed unit in Bangor.
The incoming governor’s administration made the request of Correct Care in the weeks before the new governor’s inauguration, Mills spokesman Scott Ogden said. She had asked the LePage administration not to enter into any contracts in the days before she took office, but LePage rejected that request, and an official from his administration signed the contract.
That facility 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, which lost its federal accreditation in 2013. It is being built on the campus of Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center.
“Governor Mills has previously expressed concerns about the LePage Administration’s pursuit of the proposed step-down facility in Bangor, and, at the request of the then-incoming administration, Correct Care Solutions agreed not to sign the contract,” Ogden wrote in an emailed statement on Monday.
Ogden also said that the new administration is reviewing the negotiated contract, “continuing discussions with Correct Care, and conducting a thorough evaluation of all aspects of the facility to determine in the coming weeks and months the best path forward.”
The LePage administration was close to signing a contract with Correct Care, but last month, a watchdog who oversees improvements to the state’s mental health care system objected to a funding proposal that would have paid for the contract with about $5.4 million in state money that was earmarked for local mental health services.
The watchdog, Daniel Wathen, is a former Maine Supreme Court chief justice who has been appointed to monitor the state’s compliance with a decades-old court order that stems from a lawsuit over problems at the former Augusta Mental Health Institute, or AMHI.
After Wathen filed a recommendation against the funding proposal in Kennebec County Superior Court in the middle of December, a representative for LePage said he still planned to sign the contract but did not identify an alternate source of funding for it.
Mills’ administration “could change it, they could reject it or they could sign it,” Wathen said of the contract. “It’ll be up to them. In essence, it gives the new administration the right to do what it wants.”
Before this week, Mills declined to state her intentions for the proposed step-down facility.
LePage, a Republican, and Mills, a Democrat who served as the state’s attorney general during his administration, have previously clashed about the proposed step-down facility.
LePage originally hoped to build the new facility in Augusta but decided to build it in Bangor after lawmakers blocked the proposal in 2016, saying they didn’t have enough information about the project. At the time, the administration said it could bypass legislative approval for the project by paying for it with internal Maine DHHS funds.
In early 2017, Mills’ office said the administration would need legislative approval even if the agency could pay for it with internal funding.