December 16, 2013

Court Master: Reopen Augusta group homes for Riverview placements

Court Master Daniel Wathen gives DHHS commissioner a deadline.

By Betty Adams
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Too many forensic patients are waiting too long to transition from the state-run Riverview Psychiatric Center to a community setting and too many are waiting to get into the hospital.

Daniel Wathen

Staff file photo

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Cecil Munson

Contributed photo

Additional Photos Below

For those reasons, Court Master Daniel Wathen has concluded the state is out of compliance with a settlement agreement and consent decree and has formally recommended to the commissioner of the Department of Health & Human Services that two group homes on Arsenal Street be reopened within the next 130 days. Forensic patients have committed a violent or criminal act and have been ordered to the hospital by the court.

The consent decree settled a 1989 lawsuit filed by patients against the former Augusta Mental Health Institute and holds the state mental health system to agreed-upon standards of care.

Wathen said the two group homes can serve up to 10 people who have court approval to move out of Riverview.

The department, for its part, “has been in conversation with the court master and we are working on an aggressive plan to cultivate additional community options,” according to an email Monday from DHHS spokesman John Martins.

Wathen also offered an alternative, saying the department could show him plans within 30 days to open a group home elsewhere within 140 days.

The Arsenal Street group homes, on the same property as the state mental health hospital, were closed in the summer of 2012 and the occupants moved to group homes on Glenridge Drive and Green Street. That move made those former patients eligible for federal Social Security benefits, which they were denied while living on state property.

That move, however, also stunned residents and city officials who did not receive prior notice and raised concerns about public safety because of the patients’ proximity to residences.

Wathen told a legislative committee last week that six people have been cleared by a judge to leave the hospital. Four of those have been waiting for six months for a placement to open up, and three more people could get permission to leave in the next few months. The hospital has 92 beds, 44 of which are reserved for forensic patients.

Wathen’s letter, sent Friday to DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew, says, “The most recent placement that was accomplished involved a wait of approximately one year for an opening to occur.”

Wathen said there are no community placements available now or prospects for any soon.

Wathen also reiterated that 18 people are waiting to be admitted to the forensic unit in Riverview, including one person who has been found not criminally responsible for an offense and four people who have been found incompetent to stand trial.

Augusta City Councilor Cecil Munson said that rather than create new group homes in the community, he would prefer to reopen the closed ones on Arsenal Street.

“Or let’s spread the group homes out,” Munson said. “Let’s look at Portland or Bangor. The feeling is that Augusta has really done its part. These folks come from all over the state — they’re not just from Augusta.”

He said if that posed a problem for treatment, then the group homes near Riverview would be the better alternative.

Munson also noted that state Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, had proposed using the Arsenal Street property for homeless veterans.

Wathen cited a provision in the consent decree that says the department is out of compliance “with respect to the development and provision of community placements outside Riverview.”

Wathen also told the commissioner: “The allowance of 130 days is predicated on the possibility that reactivation may require notice to the community of Augusta.

“I urge the department to take the position that 120 days’ notice is not required in order to reactive these existing state-owned group homes on the AMHI campus and to strive for an earlier occupancy date.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631badams@centralmaine.comTwitter: @betadams

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Additional Photos

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GROUP HOMEs: Two of the former group homes at Arsenal Heights in Augusta, shown in November, could once again house former patients of the Riverview Psychiatric Center.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan


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