AUGUSTA — The LePage administration has identified a site in Bangor for a new secure psychiatric facility for forensic patients in state custody who no longer need hospital-level care.

Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic lawmakers have been in an ongoing dispute over a proposal to add a new $3.5 million, 21-bed facility to the state’s Riverview Psychiatric Center campus. Democrats on the Legislature’s Legislative Council have twice blocked the project under a provision in state law that requires the council to approve new construction on state property in the Capitol Area in Augusta.

LePage has charged Democrats with playing politics over the facility, which, he says, is needed for the state to regain its federal certification and funding for Riverview. The hospital, which houses some of the state’s most violent mentally ill patients, lost its certification in 2013.

Peter Steele, LePage’s director of communications, said the administration settled on the Bangor location as a way to avoid legislative approval and oversight of its plan for a new psychiatric facility. The administration would like to free up beds in Riverview and create a new so-called “step-down” facility that would be run by a private contractor.

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew has said the state can build and operate the new center with existing resources and that it will not require new state revenues. Democrats, including House Speaker Sara Gideon, have called for more details and a public hearing on the proposal.

“The administration has identified a site in Bangor,” Steele wrote in an email to the Portland Press Herald on Friday. Earlier in the week, LePage told talk radio hosts in Portland that he was on the verge of announcing the new location. He said that he had abandoned his efforts to place the facility in Augusta, where it has already been approved by local officials on the Augusta Planning Board. Administration officials previously said relocating the proposed facility now could add $1 million to the project’s cost as additional permitting, design and planning work would need to be completed.

Steele said the facility would be newly built on a 6.28-acre parcel near the state’s 51-bed Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor, which also houses forensic patients, those ordered by the courts to be held in state custody because they have been found not criminally responsible for their actions.

The proposed site is state-owned and currently on the market, listed for $495,000,but Steele said the parcel would be taken off the market so it can be used for the new facility.

Gideon, also in an email message Friday, said she received word from administration officials Thursday that LePage intended a formal announcement for next Tuesday.

Gideon said LePage was aware the Legislature wanted to hold a hearing as soon as Jan. 3, but that didn’t satisfy the governor.

“We would have liked to move even faster than that, but new transitions into leadership roles, committee assignments and Christmas/Hanukkah/New Years holidays made the week of Jan. 3 the earliest possible,” Gideon wrote.

Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, the House assistant minority leader, said Democratic leaders were disappointed LePage appeared unwilling to allow for additional hearings on the proposal for the Augusta location near Riverview.

“It kind of reveals that he was never really sincere about working together on this,” Golden said. He said most lawmakers were in agreement that Augusta was the best location for the new facility. “But we feel as though there are some important questions that should be discussed in a public session,” Golden said. He said moving the project now, with the additional costs that would come, was “an unnecessary waste of taxpayer dollars when it is clear legislative leaders are all working towards getting to yes on the Augusta site.”

The federal agency that oversees Riverview’s funding revoked the hospital’s certification in 2013 after regulators found many 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.

The federal agency, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, also determined that the 92-bed facility was improperly commingling patients who needed intense hospital treatment with those who no longer required hospitalization. In 2015, the state lost an effort to appeal the decertification of Riverview when a federal judge found the state missed a filing deadline.

Steele said LePage wasn’t trying to avoid legislative oversight on the project, which the administration believes has been well vetted, both at the Legislature and with local officials.

“Democrats played politics for years with this facility, and they had plenty of time before Christmas to approve it,” Steele wrote. “Democrats are solely focused on protecting union jobs in Augusta. Gov. LePage is laser-focused on getting these patients the treatment and the facility they need and deserve as soon as possible.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

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