Riverview Psychiatric Hospital Retains Federal Funding, Despite Serious Issues

by Mike Reynolds
Ability Maine Staff
September 19, 2013


After a highly critical report released last week by the Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services (CMS)cited major concerns in the level of patient care and safety, the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, Maine could lose twenty million dollars in federal money, after allegations that law enforcement personnel were restraining patients using handcuffs and stun guns. The federal money could be lost if federal officials do not approve a  plan to address the concerns by September 2nd. Kennebec County law enforcement officials were brought in after an assault on a mental health care worker by a patient in mid-March.


Among the issues cited in the report, which was a result of two unannounced visits in March and in early May, were issues such as failure to prevent abuse of patients, allowing law enforcement to use stun guns or tasers on any patient in the hospital who was perceived of demonstrating threatening behavior. The report stated that there was a failure to comply with laws meant to assure that patients are treated in a safe setting and free from physical and psychological abuse and harassment. The report also discussed numerous issues with hospital staff being trained in the Non Abusive Psychological and Physical Intervention protocals, known as NAPPI, and county law enforcement being trained in the use of restraint and control.


Mary Louise McEwen, Superintendent of Riverview, stated in the Kennebec Journal on August 21 that a new plan was submitted to federal officials on August 16th. The article states that stun guns and tasers were not used by county law enforcement since May 24th.

However, as reported in an article published by the Morning Sentinel on August 27, Capitol Police were involved with using a taser on July 24. The taser was used on a patient who was voluntary admitted on that day. The patient was released August 12. Maine Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin stated it was the first and only time the taser or stun gun was used. However, there does not seem to be any proposed change in policy to prevent an similar event in the future.

The problems figure to be in the center of a special session called for Thursday, August 29th, which will primarily deal with bond issues dealing with infrastructure within the state. Lawmakers are expected to vote on bill LD 1515, which would spend 4.3 million dollars and create a mental health ward at the prison in Warren. The bill would cut 20 beds at the Riverview facility, but Superintendent McEwen was unsure how much federal monies would be lost with the loss of 20 beds. Currently, the facility has 92 beds, approximately 50 of those beds right now are being used with patients who have ties to the criminal justice system. A special legislative committee, formed only last week, was investigating the issues regarding the Riverview facility before legislators return to session in Augusta.


Many are skeptical that LD 1515 will do much to address the immediate concerns that plague the Riverview Hospital. LD 1515 was the LePage administration's plan to try and reduce overcrowding at Riverview, but was held over because of its cost.  Even if passed during the special session, it will take time to build or setup the mental health facility in Warren. The  American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and others are against LD 1515 because its implementation is no guarantee that conditions will get better at Riverview Psychiatric Hospital, and that funding to address the issues at Riverview directly will be money better spent. On August 30th, the State of Maine DHHS received written assurances that the federal funding would not be cut as it appeared LD 1515 was set to pass the legislature. It is disappointing that the current administration at the Blaine House has such little regard for such things as a basic comprehensive plan to mental health care to the neediest individuals in our state.

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