October 13, 2012

Petition targets Augusta group homes

Capital bears unfair burden in hosting forensic patients who've committed violent crimes

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- Residents and officials say they are fed up with the city and its neighborhoods bearing the burden of playing host to mental health patients from across the state who committed violent acts.

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Augusta Mayor William Stokes says his city bears an unfair burden since it's home to the 92-bed Riverview Psychiatric Center, the only mental health center in the state that takes in forensic patients found not criminally responsible by reason of mental defect or disease.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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The Riverview Psychiatric Center is located on the east side of Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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"We, the undersigned, strongly oppose the presence of the group homes at 14 Glenridge Drive and 22-24 Green St. which house forensic patients. The presence of these group homes undermine the safety and security of our community. We ask that these homes cease operations."

Mayfair neighborhood resident Peter DeSchamp -- who said his home is 1,371 feet from a new group home at 14 Glenridge Drive that houses a man who killed his brother, and another who killed two nuns and severely injured two others -- said he's putting new locks on his doors and installing a security system "to take care of my family a little bit differently now because of this."

DeSchamp said he and a few other neighbors easily collected more than 150 signatures on a petition stating the group homes for so-called forensic patients undermine the safety and security of the community. He and others are asking for the new group homes to cease operations.

The public unrest comes as patients are being moved to new residential group homes under a proposal that recently took city officials by surprise.

Mayor William Stokes and City Manager William Bridgeo said Augusta bears an unfair burden since it's home to the 92-bed Riverview Psychiatric Center, the only mental health center in the state that takes in forensic patients found not criminally responsible by reason of mental defect or disease. They said once such patients are at Riverview, their next step in their treatment processes is often to move into a group home in Augusta, so they will still be close to Riverview in case they need treatment there.

"The issue for me is why is Augusta bearing the entire burden of this?" Stokes said. "That's not fair. Other communities should be sharing the burden. It can't all be dumped on us; this isn't an Augusta problem, we didn't create it. It was done to us, not by us."

Stokes said he met with Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew and was told the department is aware Augusta bears a disproportionate share of the burden in hosting all forensic patients from across the state. State officials say they are working on a long-term plan to address that situation, Stokes said.

Bridgeo said in his 15 years, that's the first time he's heard a state official make such an acknowledgment.

John Martins, a DHHS spokesman, said the department recognizes that Augusta is home to a number of group homes for forensic patients but noted those found to be not criminally responsible often require strict monitoring and have therapy requirements outlined by the court that require them to remain close to Riverview.

He said the DHHS is working with the Department of Corrections to review all statutes related to forensic patients and gathering information from other states to learn how they manage such patients.

"The department is looking at several options that would enable clients to relocate closer to their homes," Martins said of forensic patients. "We have no firm proposals at this time."

Patient reintegration

The state closed three group homes on the state's east side office complex, which is on the former grounds of the Augusta Mental Health Institute, also the site of Riverview. Patients housed there have moved to two group homes run by Motivational Services, at 14 Glenridge Drive and 22-24 Green St.

Martins said Friday that the last of the three homes on state ground closed two weeks ago.

The forensic patients at the Glenridge Drive site include Enoch Petrucelly, a Palmyra man committed to state custody when he was found not criminally responsible for stabbing his brother to death in 2008, and Mark Bechard, who was committed after killing two nuns and severely wounding two others in a Waterville chapel in 1996.

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