AUGUSTA — The Riverview Psychiatric Center has fired its director of nursing, the latest in a series of top-level turnovers at the embattled state mental hospital.

Larry Dean Plant, director of nursing since October 2015, said he was given a few minutes to collect his personal belongings from his office May 26 before being escorted from the building.

“Never have I been so humiliated,” Plant said in an interview. “I grabbed what I could, put it in a bag and I left.”

Plant said he’s not sure whether he’s the seventh or eighth nursing director to be canned from the troubled hospital in the past seven or eight years, but it’s clearly been a short-term post.

Plant, 57, of Portland, worked under a contract through Dartmouth College that called for a yearly salary of $130,000. He holds a doctorate in nursing and is licensed in Maine as an adult psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner and has been certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center since 2013. He said he had left his private practice in Portland to take the nursing director’s job at Riverview at the request of Jay Harper, who was named interim hospital superintendent in March 2014 and later became superintendent, and of Dr. Brendan Kirby, the hospital’s clinical director. Both Harper and Kirby have since left the hospital.

Plant said he knew his salary was problematic because it was higher what the state typically would pay for the position, but he had hoped to negotiate a way to stay.


“We finally got our nursing leadership pulled together just a few weeks ago,” Plant said, adding that he had thought at the time, “Now we’re finally set, and I hope they don’t make a decision and let me go.”

“They said they couldn’t afford to pay it,” Plant said.

The hospital has had trouble filling vacancies and the Legislature recently approved a pay raise for nurses that takes effect July 1.

Daniel Wathen, who serves as court master for a consent decree setting guidelines for the state’s treatment of people diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness, said he was aware that Plant’s contract had been terminated, as had that of another worker, a psychiatrist.

“Any time there’s a change, there’s a potential for disruption, but it depends on the reason for it,” Wathen said Wednesday. He noted that the hospital still has assistant directors of nursing. “I believe the hospital is in a position to continue to function and handle its clients.”

The hospital’s latest superintendent, Rodney Bouffard, came aboard in late April, succeeding Harper, who left about a month before that.


Harper worked directly for the state of Maine, earning $135,244 in 2015, which included just over $11,400 in insurance benefits, according to the Maine Open Checkbook website. Plant’s predecessor, Roland Pushard, had been a state employee, earning $109,165, including insurance and retirement costs in 2015, according to the same site. However, Pushard was walked out of the hospital last year, along with an assistant director of nursing, Colleen Cutler.

The federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, the agency that oversees Riverview funding, revoked the hospital’s certification two years ago after regulators found numerous problems during an audit, including the use of stun guns, pepper spray and handcuffs on patients; improper record-keeping; medication errors; and failure to report progress made by patients. That action has jeopardized $20 million in annual funding reimbursement.

However, the 92-bed hospital, which treats civil patients as well as forensic patients placed there through the criminal justice system, remains accredited by The Joint Commission.

Tom Farkas, spokesman for the Maine State Employees Union-SEIU Local 1989, which represents about 100 of Riverview’s 300 or so employees, including nurses and social workers, said Wednesday that the union had no comment on the nursing leadership change.

Plant said he had recruited Karen Smail, who had worked most recently at Midcoast Hospital in Brunswick, to fill the job of assistant director of nursing. Smail came to Riverview in February and remains there. Plant said he thought Riverview nurses do not get the recognition they deserve and that he and others pulled together a series of events for National Nurses Week in May.

Samantha Edwards, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the hospital, said in an email that “per usual the department does not comment on personnel matters, including contracted employees.” The same email noted that as of May 28, “there were a total of 24 vacancies at Riverview.”


Wathen said the hospital has succeeded in filling a number of vacant staff posts in recent months. In January, Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew told the Government Oversight Committee that the budget allows Riverview 364 positions and that 51 of those were vacant. All but four of those positions were classified as direct care workers.

“When it comes to acuity specialists and mental health workers, they have eliminated the vacancies. That’s been reduced to a very minimal number, and they seem to be doing well on that,” Wathen said.

The nursing vacancy number is dropping more slowly.

“Nursing vacancies several months ago were 20-plus, and in the last month or so, they are down now to 10,” said Wathen, who receives weekly updates on the progress at Riverview.

“The staffing seems to be doing well, at least from my observations,” Wathen said. “The new superintendent is engaged and going forward with plans to address mandates, overtime, seclusion and restraint and has a thoughtful plan that he’s laying out and beginning to implement.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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