LePage, Democratic Leaders Finally Meet To Discuss Riverview Woes, Alexander Report Payments
Democratic leaders had waited for more than two months for an opportunity to speak with Governor Paul LePage on a number of concerns, not the least of which were the troubling news of Riverview once again failing to qualify for federal re-certification and final resolution of the monies owed back to the state from the Alexander Group for their now widely discredited and plagiarized report.
- On Tuesday, the governor released a statement to the Portland Press Herald, saying, “I will take every action we can. I am not happy about this.”
He added that the state may attempt to reclaim the $500,000 it has already paid The Alexander Group.
“It’s all a matter of the extent of what the damage is,” he said.
Apparently “the damage” ultimately wasn’t that bad in Paul LePage’s eyes.
Yesterday Democratic leadership finally got their chance to question the governor and others, albeit in a closed door meeting. The news for Maine was pretty bleak, as LePage now has no intention of recouping the $475,000 already paid to the Alexander Group.
While the Governor’s office has had very little to say about the meeting, Senate President Justin Alfond and Speaker of the House Mark Eves quickly issued a joint statement about the first meeting between the three since January:
- “Our top priority for the meeting was to press the Governor for answers on the Alexander Group refund and on the latest developments at Riverview,” said House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick. “It’s clear that he has abandoned the effort to recoup a full refund for the discredited and plagiarized report from the Alexander Group. Of the nearly $500,000 in taxpayer funds paid to the Alexander Group, the state has recouped only $27,000.”
During the meeting, the Governor reiterated the administration’s position that it was confident the state would correct problems at the Riverview Psychiatric Center despite a recent failed bid to qualify for federal re-certification. The state psychiatric hospital lost its certification last September due to mismanagement and dangerous conditions at the hospital. As a result, the federal government said it could [hold back] approximately $20 million in funding for the hospital.“We hope the Governor is right, but we remain concerned,” said Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland. “We expect the Governor to take seriously the deficiencies in safety conditions for patients and workers that led to the loss of $20 million.”
During the meeting, Governor LePage complained that lawmakers did not pass his 11th hour proposal to increase funding for the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. The bipartisan Appropriations Committee passed an amended bill to include funding for substance abuse treatment. At the time, the Governor said he would veto anything but his original proposal so no further votes on the bill were taken.
“The Governor sat on the sidelines when lawmakers were doing work, whether it was the budget or other important bills. He continues to blame others for his unwillingness and inability to work constructively with the legislature,” said Senate President Alfond.
- “The Alexander Report has been a case study in government waste and poor judgment from the very beginning,” Michaud said.
“This deeply flawed and controversial report has never been anything more than a political document meant to further Gov. LePage’s re-election. And now, despite public outrage and evidence that parts of the report were plagiarized, the LePage administration is still refusing to seek a full refund of hard-earned taxpayer dollars that could have been used to help working families, improve education and meet other important priorities. This is pure mismanagement and fiscal irresponsibility on the part of Gov. LePage. Mainers deserve better.”
Michaud released a plan earlier this year to appoint an Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services and cited the ongoing scandal revolving around the Alexander Report as an example of one of the many issues of waste and mismanagement the office would be tasked with preventing.
“Gov. LePage has made a big issues about waste, fraud and abuse as governor, but it’s clear that the biggest culprit of wasting taxpayer dollars is the governor himself,” Michaud said. “Mainers deserve a governor who will work with Democrats, Republicans and independents to address the issues facing Maine and who will use tax dollars wisely.”
In July it was reported that LePage thought Maine should give up on the Riverview Psychiatric Center re-certification efforts, throwing away more than $14 million in federal funding. Michaud’s response at that time:
- “Since taking office, Gov. Paul LePage’s Department of Health and Human Services has been a case study in government waste and mismanagement,” said Michaud. “His mismanagement of Riverview Psychiatric Center is the pinnacle of this and it needs to be addressed immediately. The list of issues at Riverview is exhaustive, troubling and a black eye on this administration and state. Rather than pledging to Mainers that he will address these issues, Gov. LePage is choosing to give up and throw away millions of dollars in funding. His inaction makes Maine vulnerable to lawsuits, puts Riverview on the brink of crisis and leaves Maine taxpayers to foot the bill for his failed leadership.”
Maine Republican Party spokesman David Sorensen took to Twitter, as the thus far sole GOP reaction on the meeting:
— David Sorensen (@DSorensenME) August 8, 2014
— David Sorensen (@DSorensenME) August 8, 2014
Not quite accurate, as the federal government is demanding Maine pay back monies dating back almost a year and will be still on the hook for a hefty sum, even were the hospital to become re-certified.
- “We will be seeking the return of that money because the facility has been decertified,” Richard McGreal, associate regional administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told the Press Herald this week.
If Riverview becomes certified, federal money will flow back to the center. But even then the center would not be funded retroactively, and Riverview will still owe the federal money it has used in the months it was ineligible, McGreal said.
State officials said they have not been told of the pending “disallowance” action and have been drawing from the federal account the entire time. Maine is entitled to $20 million per year in federal money to operate Riverview, representing more than half of the hospital’s $36 million budget.
(To be updated as needed.)