- Associated Press - Thursday, December 22, 2016

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Gov. Paul LePage says his administration soon will propose a new location for a secure, privately run facility for residents with mental illness who no longer need hospital care.

The Republican governor’s administration had planned to build the $3.5 million facility in Augusta, which requires approval from a group of legislative leaders. Lawmakers, including Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon and Republican Sen. Roger Katz, say they support the idea but note the administration’s current plan has never been presented to the legislature.

Gideon said she and Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau have agreed to hold a joint hearing the first week in January to move the process along.

“As I have been saying for weeks, we need to ensure the safety of patients, the workers who care for them, and of the public, and also that we are spending taxpayer dollars appropriately,” she said.

But LePage on Thursday told WGAN-FM he’s tired of political games and will build the facility elsewhere because the state may have to return millions of dollars in federal funds used for Maine’s psychiatric facility.

LePage’s office didn’t respond when asked if legislators’ plans for a January hearing would change his mind. LePage made the comments a day after his senior policy adviser tweeted that Augusta remains the best site for the facility.

The proposed Augusta site is next to Riverview Psychiatric Center. The administration says the proposed facility will help Riverview regain the federal certification it lost in 2013 following concerns over overcrowding, inadequate staffing and improper use of control methods such as stun guns.

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services also found Maine was improperly housing patients who needed intense hospital treatment alongside those who no longer needed such care.

Maine has been using about $14 million in annual federal funding for the facility, even though facilities without federal certification usually are not eligible to receive Medicare funding and federal Medicaid funding.

A spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said the state did not file a timely plan to fix the uncovered issues and the agency hasn’t yet sent the state an official letter about the matter.

The facility has received local and state administrative approvals and would free up needed psychiatric beds. It would house people who committed wrongdoings but were ruled not criminally responsible by the courts.

The leader of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine said she supports the facility after learning it would only house patients who already have received hospital care.

LePage’s administration has repeatedly said the facility would be run by a contracted vendor. Ricker Hamilton, the deputy commissioner of programs for the state Department of Health and Human Services, has said questions about staffing and performance measures would be answered during the process for selecting the vendor.

Democratic Senate Minority Lead Troy Jackson said the administration must answer questions about privatization and who exactly would care for mental health patients.

“Would the state realize any savings, or would it simply outsource state funds to a private corporation without any benefit to taxpayers?” he said.


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