It’s been hard for the Department of Health and Human Services, legislators and mental-health advocates to find common ground on a solution to the problems at the state’s main mental hospital. But finally, after more than two years, everyone is close to agreeing on the best path forward for Riverview Psychiatric Recovery Center and its patients.

Unfortunately, the only thing standing in the way of progress is the same thing that has mucked up the works in Augusta on so many other issues — the LePage administration’s unwillingness to treat skeptical stakeholders as anything but enemies.

The latest example involves the department’s plan to build a 21-bed “secure forensic rehabilitation facility” adjacent to Riverview to treat certain mentally ill patients who have committed crimes.

This particular plan surfaced suddenly last month with little articulation from the state, raising questions from everyone interested in the future of Riverview. Five weeks later, not much more is known, as DHHS and the governor’s office have stonewalled local legislators and refused to provide more detailed answers to the press.

That’s unfortunate, since interested parties who have criticized the governor in the past — on Riverview as well as other issues — are open to the latest proposal.

Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook, the Democratic chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, said such a facility “in all likelihood … is the kind of thing we need to do.” The Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which has been critical of the administration’s prior plans for Riverview, supports the administration’s general concept, too, as does Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who said it “seems like a good idea.”


But they and many others also have legitimate concerns about the building, which as a privately run facility would represent a significant departure for how Maine cares for mentally ill residents who have committed crimes.

The first of those concerns is who will operate the facility, how the operator will be selected, and how oversight will be handled.

There are questions, too, about how the sometimes competing factors of care and security will be balanced.

Also unanswered is where the state will find the $3 million to $5 million to build the facility — beyond the generalities offered by the department — and how the use of those funds and future operating costs will affect Riverview and other aspects of state-funded mental health care.

There is no reason to withhold this information other than to head off criticism or to punish past critics. In any case, it is part of a pattern for the administration, which frequently ignores requests for information from media, advocates, and even legislators.

Unfortunately, the Legislature does not have final say over this proposal, as it did over a previous underbaked plan for a 50-bed facility that was summarily rejected.

The last hope for transparency is the Augusta Planning Board, which needs answers to some of these questions in order to approve the new building. The board voted to table the matter last week after getting no help from a state consultant who could not provide any more information than was provided in the state’s 184-page application, which only covered engineering aspects such as site plans and wastewater drainage.

It appears the administration may be forced to reveal whatever it is holding back, but it is a shame that it has come to that. Such an important decision benefits from multiple viewpoints and separate checks and balances.

That’s the basis for good government, something the LePage administration has never bothered to learn.

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