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LePage urges lawmakers to fix psych hospital woes

August 24, 2013

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine Gov. Paul LePage is calling on lawmakers this week to quickly pass a bill he says will save a state-run psychiatric hospital in danger of losing $20 million in funding.

LePage said in his weekly radio address that a bill to build a mental health wing at the state prison is needed to ensure patient and worker safety at the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta. Lawmakers are expected to take up the bill when they return next week.

“This will create a safer environment at Riverview, and it will allow the staff to serve the patients that the hospital is authorized to help,” LePage said. “This is a dangerous situation that needs to be resolved immediately. Protecting our patients and our staff should not be a partisan issue. It is the right thing to do.”

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has threatened to cut federal funding by Sept. 2 citing concerns about overcrowding, understaffing and the center’s use of correctional officers. More than half the hospital’s beds are currently occupied by patients sent there by court order or from jail, but because it’s not a prison, Riverview doesn’t have the security or protocols to deal with those patients, the LePage administration says.

LePage bashed the Appropriations Committee for not funding the $3 million dollar bill last session and choosing instead to “increase welfare to Maine communities.” But Democrats say the governor’s administration asked that the bill be held over from last session.

The center has submitted a proposal to the federal government to make 20 beds ineligible for Medicaid or Medicare reimbursements, which would allow the center to maintain federal funding, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew told the Appropriations Committee on Thursday. But that would only be short-term solution, she said.

The committee said it supports the bill, but did not move it forward last week. Lawmakers said they first want to hear from a group of experts over the next week to decide if anything needs to be added to fully address the federal government’s concerns with the center. Lawmakers will return on Thursday for a special session to vote on a bond proposal and are expected to take up the bill at that time.

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