Emergency Hearing on Riverview Psychiatric Center Held; Dems Voice ConcernsLast Wednesday, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew met with a joint session of the members of the 125th Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs (AFA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) Committees to discuss what lead to the federal government’s $20 million defunding of Maine’s Riverview Psychiatric Center. According to the feds, the decision to pull funding was based upon the center’s failure to comply with safety standards. The LePage administration received notification on October 2nd (letter dated September 27) of the decision by Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) in a 17 page document which detailed concerns going back to March of this year.
In late August, legislators passed emergency measure LD 1515, “An Act To Increase the Availability of Mental Health Services” designed to correct the safety and understaffing issued raised by CMS. In early September, the administration repeatedly assured lawmakers that this measure to expand the Maine State Prison’s mental health unitwould address the federal government’s concerns by reducing the patient load at Riverview. But that was not the case, as CMS terminated its $20 million funding to the psychiatric hospital following an unannounced site visit to the facility in mid-September. It cited ongoing operational, governance, and management deficiencies leading to safety concerns and human rights violations.
Here are links to some of the discussions between DHHS Commissioner Mayhew, legal counsel Ken Albert, and various members of the joint committees in their 3 1/2 hour long meeting.
Afterwards, some lawmakers continued to voice concerns:
“Today’s meeting was about fulfilling the Legislature’s responsibility to work together with the Department in solving critical problems at Riverview. We expected to hear answers about how Riverview got here, why the Legislature was not kept in the loop, and what we must do going forward,” said Senator Dawn Hill of York, the Senate Chair of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.
House Chair Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston expressed frustration with the lack of answers provided: “Today was a beginning but we still don’t have clear answers from the administration about how they’re going to fix this problem and how we’re going to pay for patient care in the interim.”
She continued: “Since March, I believe, the administration has known that funding for Riverview could be in jeopardy, but the Legislature was not informed until August,” Rotundo said. She said lawmakers were then told the bill to expand mental health services at the prison would correct those problems.
“And that we would be kept in the loop in terms of what was happening at Riverview,” Rotundo said. “But since then the Legislature was not informed that CMS had been to Riverview to do the survey.”
Representative Mike Carey of Lewiston: “This comes down to staffing and money. This is what it will take to ensure the safety of the workers and to help the patients who go to Riverview to get better. But if we are going to get this done, we need direct answers and more timely information from the administration.”
AFA Committee member Senator Emily Cain of Orono: “We are all pulling for the same positive outcome. We have a responsibility for, and care deeply about the patients and staff and Riverview, and the budget implications of this crisis. And it is in the spirit of resolution that we are here today seeking answers that are long overdue.”
Mayhew responded to all: “It is unfortunate that we must continue to spend additional financial and staff resources to appeal the decision and reapply for certification. I remain confident, however, that Riverview Psychiatric Center will be recertified by CMS and will receive necessary funding for critical psychiatric services for the people of the state of Maine.”
It is still unclear what the next steps beyond the state applying for recertification will be, if there will be more discussion within the Legislature at this point and how the ongoing federal government shutdown will affect this situation and the funding woes at Riverview.