AUGUSTA — Riverview Psychiatric Center, which lost millions in federal money beginning last fall and has yet to qualify for funding restoration, has a new sign that tweaks its name: Riverview Psychiatric Recovery Center.

“The sign change reflects the new culture of recovery and excellence that is being built at the hospital,” said John Martins, spokesman for the Maine Department of Health & Human Services, via email. “It helps to strengthen the focus on recovery.”

The sign appeared last week in front of the hospital on the grounds of the former Augusta Mental Health Institute on Hospital Street on the east side of Augusta.

Martins said Riverview Superintendent Jay Harper requested the sign change and it was approved by department Commissioner Mary Mayhew. Lawmakers who serve on the Health and Human Services Committee say they were not aware of the change.

“This request came after several meetings with patients,” Martins wrote. “These meetings, which now occur regularly …(are) considered confidential. Through these meetings, the superintendent has learned a great deal about the patient’s desires — including being called patients versus clients, which is indeed, a change at RPC.”

Harper — a former patient advocate — took over at Riverview in March following the ouster of superintendent Mary Louise McEwen.

The sign change did not sit well with some current and former Democratic legislators.

Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, chairwoman of the Health & Human Services Committee, said she has many concerns about Riverview.

“I am very frustrated with the administration,” Craven said on Tuesday after hearing about the sign change. “They pay more attention to signs than to treatment of people. They have not been able to meet the CMS requirements for us to receive the (federal) dollars so we’re losing $20 million a year because the institution and administration refuse to comply with requirements.”

Craven said the institution must focus on treating patients, particularly forensic patients — those accused or convicted of crimes who have been sent there under court order and are often there for years.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services withdrew certification for the 92-bed hospital in September, making it ineligible for federal money following disclosures that sheriff’s deputies used stun guns and handcuffs to control unruly patients. Federal regulators in June refused to recertify the hospital as a 72-bed facility, citing unreported medication errors and records-keeping failures, failure to adopt treatment plans, suggesting even deeper problems than previously revealed at the state mental hospital.

Martins wrote that Riverview Psychiatric Center will continue to be the official name of the hospital, and that DHHS has not “changed any documentation with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services” or another accreditation group called the Joint Commission.

Martins said the sign cost $1,236.30, which would be offset by lower maintenance costs.

“The new sign is virtually maintenance-free, while the previous sign required regular maintenance,” Martins wrote.

The state will owe between $11 million and $17 million to the federal government for money it has continued to draw down even though it does not meet federal standards. That number is expected to grow the longer the hospital continues to operate without federal certification.

Kennebec County Commissioner Beverly Daggett was Senate president in 2003 when she introduced a bill to name the hospital after Dorothea Dix, who pioneered the effort to treat people with mental illness in hospitals rather than prisons. Dix was born in Hampden.

However, with the Legislature’s approval that year, the new state hospital in Augusta that replaced AMHI became Riverview Psychiatric Center. On Tuesday, Daggett said she wondered why the sign was changed, but the name remains the same.

“Typically the sign reflects the name, so that seems kind of strange to me,” Daggett said. “I find that kind of curious. It seems to me it is an interesting time to do that when there’s quite a bit of concern about the lack of accreditation. There clearly are some serious problems there.”

Rep. Deborah J. Sanderson, of Chelsea, the Republican lead on the Health & Human Services Committee, said Tuesday that the committee was not informed of the sign change.

“That’s not necessarily a change that would have to be alerted to the legislative committee,” Sanderson said on Tuesday. She said the committee deals largely with policy. “We’re the committee of oversight for the function of the DHHS and the programs under them. We don’t necessarily oversee any rules or changes to the physical plant.”

Sanderson also said legislators have been aware that the state might have to repay federal money used by Riverview while it lacked certification.

“This is something we have known from the very beginning that this could be a potential ramification,” she said, adding, “I can’t see that sign change is any indication of what is going on with the federal funding piece.”

Legislators will deal with Riverview’s money problems and other Department of Health and Human Services funding issues at a 10 a.m. Tuesday Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee meeting.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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