The LePage administration’s latest plan to restore federal certification to Riverview Psychiatric Center looks promising, but once again we are only seeing part of the picture.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which operates the Augusta hospital, is planning to build a secure 21-bed facility next to Riverview to house mentally ill patients who have committed crimes and no longer require hospital-level care.

That is likely the best way to regain the federal recertification lost more than two years ago after regulators found significant problems at Riverview. However, the administration has yet to provide key details on how the new facility will be operated.

The 21-bed unit would be privately operated, a DHHS spokeswoman said, but it isn’t clear what criteria the department would use in selecting an operator.

It also isn’t clear who would decide which patients would be moved from Riverview to the new facility and who would be looking after them once they were there.

Finally, it isn’t apparent what level of oversight, and by whom, the facility will be subject to once it is up and running.

Those are the same questions raised by the administration’s plan, brought forward last year, to build a 50-bed privately run facility at a cost of $18 million. That proposal was presented with no further details to the Legislature in the final days of the session, and legislators rightly rejected it.

That led to a proposal to move some patients to the Intensive Mental Health Unit at the Maine Correctional Center in Warren, which would have put patients in a correctional setting. It, too, was rightly rejected by legislators, who argued a separate facility could work, but not at a prison.

Now, we have the latest plan, which has renewed the questions asked of the 50-bed facility.

Answering those questions is vitally important in determining whether the planned facility is the right route for solving the problems at Riverview.

Handing over to a privately operated facility patients who the state is obligated to treat should not be done lightly, particularly given the problems of other privately run secure facilities, where attempts to cut costs without proper oversight have led to lapses in care.

Unfortunately, the answers may not come. The department plans to build the facility with $3 million to $5 million already within the DHHS budget. As a result, DHHS does not need legislative approval to move forward with construction, and it seems the administration will use the opportunity to build the facility with only the lightest of public scrutiny.

Neither key legislators nor patient advocates knew about the plan when news broke last week, even though the plan is apparently far along, with the facility on the Augusta Planning Board agenda for next month.

With so many questions still unanswered, it would be a mistake not to include the legislators and advocates who have been part of the discussion all along.

The administration has viewed any sort of oversight as a impediment to fixing Riverview, when in reality legislators and advocates have rightly rejected past plans as poorly conceived and lacking in detail.

With those previous plans as prologue, legislators and patient advocates have a right to be concerned, and they should be involved as the process moves forward.

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