Since Riverview Psychiatric Center lost its federal certification in 2013, the proposals brought forward by the LePage administration to fix the Augusta hospital have been either poorly conceived or underdeveloped, and they have been rightly rejected by Democrats in the Legislature.

But the latest fix — a plan to build a 21-bed secure facility next to Riverview for forensic patients no longer in need of hospital-level care — appears to hit the mark. Democratic leaders conditioned to distrust the Department of Health and Human Services following years of acrimony should hold their noses and push it through. It is the best result for patients under state care.

The proposal was put in jeopardy last week when Democrats on the Legislative Council, made up of the members of legislative leadership, exercised the council’s control over state construction within Augusta’s “Capitol Area” and killed it with a party-line vote.

Gov. Paul LePage accused the Democrats of playing politics, and said the facility would instead be built away from the Capitol Area, a move that could delay the project and add $1 million to the cost, according to an administration official.

That appears to be his prerogative, but it is the wrong direction for Mainers who need psychiatric help.

The new facility would take out of Riverview people who no longer need the care that is provided there, but who are also not ready to be discharged, opening beds for those who really need them.

Daniel Wathen, who oversees Riverview under a consent decree covering people with severe mental illness under the state’s care, said there is a waitlist at Riverview of 10-15 forensic patients, or those who have been deemed either incompetent to stand trial or not criminally responsible for their actions. It can take five or more weeks to get them a bed, he said.

Jenna Mehnert, executive director of the Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said she has heard of patients waiting for eight to 12 days in the halls of an emergency department before being placed.

Democrats say they simply want the administration to bring the project before the appropriate legislative committees. They would like to learn more about the facility’s funding and oversight, as well as on how the facility would operate under a private vendor. Under that plan, the project could be underway by the end of January.

The Democrats have legitimate questions; we’ve asked them, too.

But it does not appear that they can stop LePage from building a facility outside the Capitol Area, which will delay its construction, add to its cost, and bring none of the answers Democrats seek.

Instead, they should take the deal offered by Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, to move the project forward with the promise of answers during the upcoming session.

That would be a recognition that the bones of the plan — which have been backed by mental health advocates — are solid, and that the oversight of the facility by Wathen as well as the legislative committees is enough to ensure that patients suffering from mental illness are provided timely, effective care.


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