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Governor announces new future for planned psych residence

February 27, 2019

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine’s Democratic governor said Wednesday she’ll ask lawmakers to provide $2.6 million in annual funding for an up-to-20-bed residence housing patients in need of psychiatric care.

Gov. Janet Mills said the residence will be operated by the state and is hoping for an additional $4.3 million in federal funding for the cost of the facility.

“Our jails, our hospital rooms, our walk-in clinics, even our schools have been repositories for mental health issues,” Mills said.

The governor’s announcement signals a different approach than her GOP predecessor on his plans to build and operate a new psychiatric residence in Bangor without legislative approval.

Construction has already started on the building and is slated to be completed in May. The residence will sit on privately owned land the state will lease. Officials have said the new residence will serve as a new wing to the nearby state psychiatric hospital in Bangor.

Former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, wanted to ensure the facility was built in Bangor, on the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center campus, and not in Augusta, where the Riverview Psychiatric Center is located. He planned to build a privately run, “step-down” 16-bed psychiatric residence to temporarily house certain patients who no longer needed hospital care, but who can’t yet be released into the community.

Lawmakers and the LePage agreed such a building was needed, but he grew frustrated by lawmakers’ questions.

Mills is proposing that the residence serve a broader swath of psychiatric patients than her predecessor — from individuals deemed incompetent to stand trial to people in jails awaiting mental health care.

Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine, House Chair of the Legislature’s joint Appropriations Committee, said the governor’s plan could alleviate ongoing “issues of people waiting to be evaluated sitting in emergency rooms, sitting in jails.”

Mills also wants to dip into Maine general funds rather than the prior administration’s plan to rely on court-ordered funds meant for community mental health services.

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said the state will review whether there’s a need for more capacity for psychiatric patients who no longer need hospital-level care.

The facility had been sought for years as a way to help the Riverview Psychiatric Center regain the federal certification that was lost in 2013. Mills noted that Riverview regained federal certification last week and that it didn’t relay on the former governor’s plans for a step-down facility.