AUGUSTA — Robert Harper has been named acting superintendent of Riverview Psychiatric Center.
Harper, who goes by Jay, succeeds Mary Louise McEwen, who was let go a week ago after serving almost five years as superintendent.
On Wednesday, Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew announced Harper’s appointment.
“Jay’s experience and his vision make him an excellent fit for Riverview Psychiatric Center,” Mayhew said in a prepared statement. “He believes in leadership that is team-based and focuses on engaging all staff in sustaining an environment that is recovery-oriented and offers the highest quality of mental health services and treatment.”
Harper was most recently a patient advocate with the Disability Rights Center of Maine. He provided support to patients at Riverview, which serves both civil and forensic patients. Forensic patients are those committed to state custody after being found not responsible for crimes, those who are being examined to determine their competence to stand trial, and those whom a judge has declared incompetent to stand trial and are being treated to restore their competence.
Harper, of Litchfield, has worked in state government in both Maine and Massachusetts, is a former director of the Maine Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, and worked with the Bureau of Adult Community Mental Health.
“We are pleased that someone with such diverse experience and a leadership philosophy that aligns with our vision has joined our team,” Mayhew said.
The commissioner had mentioned leadership in announcing McEwen’s departure, saying “I felt that a change in leadership gave us the best opportunity to achieve that vision.”
The 92-bed Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, which opened in 2004, has come under recent federal scrutiny that has cost the hosptial millions of dollars in funding and highlighted concerns about how dangerous patients are subdued.
Both Harper and McEwen talked to the Legislature’s Forensic Mental Health Services Oversight Committee in early December about the operations of the hospital’s Lower Saco Unit, where the most severely mentally ill and potentially dangerous patients are usually housed. That was the unit that lost its certification for reimbursement for federal dollars last fall, costing the hospital an estimated $20 million annually.
That legislative oversight committee, which focused primarily on the creation of a 32-bed intensive mental health unit at the Maine State Prison, issued its final report on Wednesday.
Harper holds an undergraduate degree from Bowling Green State University, in Ohio, and a graduate degree from Harvard University. He completed the Executive Leadership Program in Mental Health Administration at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He also completed the Maine Executive Leadership Institute at Maine Maritime Academy and holds a master’s degree in psychology from Naropa University in Boulder, Colo. He is a member of the adjunct faculty (mental health and human services) at the University of Maine in Augusta.