Saturday, March 8, 2014
Kennebec Journal Staff
Active court supervision of conditions at Riverview Psychiatric Center has ended under a recent order issued in Kennebec County Superior Court.
The order was written Dec. 8 by Justice Andrew M. Horton and it affirms the recommendation of former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Daniel Wathen, who is the court master overseeing the implementation of a consent decree at the hospital.
"It is such a huge step forward for the department and it also acknowledges years of work by dedicated department staff and employees at Riverview to care for patients at the hospital and to meet the expectations of compliance with the consent decree," said Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.
While the court ended day-to-day supervision at Riverview, community mental health services will still be closely monitored. In the budget approved earlier this year, Mayhew said Gov. Paul LePage earmarked $5.4 million a year over the next two years in increased funding for those services.
However, the Legislature cut the funding in the second year by more than $4 million. The department is working to ensure that non-Medicaid eligible Mainers with severe and persistent mental illness can get the same level of care as those on Medicaid, she said.
Under the order, the DHHS must continue to submit quarterly reports both Riverview and community-based services.
Wathen, the court master, has previously noted that conditions at the state's mental health facility have been improving over the past five years, but that patients ready for discharge had been stymied many times because of the lack of funding for services, including housing.
Active court monitoring was part of a consent decree that settled a lawsuit brought 21 years ago by mental health advocates in response to dangerous living conditions and patient deaths at the state psychiatric hospital, then known as the Augusta Mental Health Institute. The advocates wanted to ensure those with mental illness could get the help they need.
Goals set in 2006 include provisions for "timely transition" to community placements "within seven and no more than 45 days from date of clinical readiness."
The consent decree covers about 4,500 people -- everyone treated at the Augusta Mental Health Institute or the Riverview Psychiatric Center since January 1988. The state has an obligation to serve others with mental illness by providing similar services, bringing the total number of people served to about 12,000.