- Associated Press - Thursday, January 5, 2017

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Everyone agrees Maine needs a new psychiatric care residence for people once charged with a crime but found not guilty because of mental illness. But lawmakers appear to be losing their fight for public oversight of Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to build a secure, privately-run unit.

Motivating officials to build a new residence are long waits at Riverview Psychiatric Center, the state’s hospital for defendants found not liable for crimes because of mental illness. Administration officials say the new facility would free up space at Riverview.

At a Thursday hearing, mental health patients and their advocates called for details about the facility’s long-term funding and why the administration wants an outside vendor to run it.

“We simply do not know what is going to be proposed,” said Mark Joyce, a managing attorney at the federally-funded Disability Rights Maine.

Joyce said the public needs written information about the facility’s operations and staffing levels, and said money may be better spent on community mental health services.

The LePage administration this week withdrew an application to build the facility in Augusta, which requires approval from legislative leaders. The plan had received local and administrative approval.

LePage met with Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon to talk about working together on the issue, but LePage has since repeatedly said in radio interviews that the facility will be built in Bangor. He said lawmakers calling for more details are just playing political games.

The leader of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine has said she supports a new psychiatric care residence after learning it would only house patients who already have received hospital care and no longer need such care.

“If someone is in Riverview and no longer needs to be there, we should do everything we can to put them into another location,” said Daniel Wathen, a former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court who is overseeing class-action litigation involving Maine’s mental health system.

LePage says his administration has already provided hours of testimony on its plans, and health officials say the public will be able to weigh in on the details - including staffing ratios- during the process of finding a vendor to run the new residence.

Wathen says he’s seen a draft version of a request for proposals, but the details cannot yet be released.

Don Beauchene, who said he’s committed to Riverview, said he’s concerned that a private prison company may take charge of the proposed facility.

“The razor wire is gone, but the fact that it was there in the first place is still” on his mind, he said Thursday, referring to a previous plan for the secure unit.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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