The best way forward for Riverview Psychiatric Center — the best path for the hospital, its workers and patients, and taxpayers in general — is for the state to follow through on its plan to build a separate facility on the Riverview campus in Augusta.

That’s the path that has been reached by compromise — that puts most of the stakeholders on the same page — and brings the swiftest, most agreeable end to the years-long effort to find a solution to Riverview’s problems.

The plan has been held up as legislators on both sides of the aisle seek answers to legitimate questions regarding the construction and operation of a 21-bed “step-down” facility. The new building would house patients under the state’s care that cannot be released but who no longer require hospital-level care, opening much-needed beds at Riverview.

Legislative leaders agree in general with the plan, but some have more specific questions for the LePage administration, including details on how a private company would be chosen to operate the new facility.

Considering that legislators will have oversight of the facility once it is built, and that the creation of a privately run facility is a monumental change in how some patients are handled, it only makes sense to have lawmakers fully satisfied now with the administration’s plan.

A public hearing on the matter could be held as soon as Jan. 3, according to House Speaker Sara Gideon. Barring any surprises, the state’s plan could be approved shortly after.

That’s the agreement between Democrat Gideon and Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau, and it is similar to the compromise offered earlier by Republican Ken Fredette, the House minority leader, who asked Democratic leaders to push the plan forward in exchange for the promise of hearings in the new session.

It is also similar, at least in time frame, to the agreement reached between Gideon and Gov. Paul LePage during a meeting earlier this month in LePage’s office. Though LePage said he would continue to look for a site outside of Augusta, administration officials would meet with legislators to answer questions about the project.

Following that meeting, though, LePage said he was moving forward instead with a plan to build the facility outside of Augusta, where legislative leaders do not have statutory authority over new building construction, as they do at the Riverview site in Augusta’s Capitol Area. Late last week, the administration said it had picked a site near the state-run Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor.

But the administration chose the Augusta site initially for a reason. Placing it near Riverview allows the state to more easily offer some services at the two facilities.

Additionally, changing sites now could cost the state as much as $1 million more than anticipated, according to the administration.

And while LePage is right when he says the need for a new facility is urgent, it’s hard to see how holding a hearing in the next few weeks will significantly delay the new facility.

Instead, the hearings would move the plan forward in bipartisan fashion, setting the stage for a successful new facility that alleviates pressure at the state’s emergency rooms and county jails, where too many psychiatric patients sit waiting for beds to open, and for a new day at Riverview.

(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this editorial misstated the outcome of a meeting between Gov. Paul LePage and House Speaker Sara Gideon.)


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: