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Maine Lawmakers Take Action on Riverview, but Funding Threats Remain
08/29/2013   Reported By: Mal Leary

Maine lawmakers have approved an expansion of the existing mental health unit at the Maine State Prison in Warren as part of an effort to ease problems at the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta. But, as Mal Leary reports, Riverview will lose Medicare certification come next Tuesday, and will have to pass another federal review to get it back.

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Maine Lawmakers Take Action on Riverview, but Fund Listen
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Despite lawmakers' action, the $20 million a year Riverview (right) receives in Medicare funding remains in jeopardy. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew says that's because the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have not completed a review of the state's plan to correct the problems uncovered at the hospital. So come next Tuesday, Riverview loses federal funding.

"We have not received anything yet in writing from CMS," Mayhew says. "We are optimistic based on oral conversations that they are increasingly satisfied with what has been submitted. The termination track, however, will still be implemented until they can re-survey the hospital."

Mayhew says the state will be allowed an additional month to bill Medicare for patients that are currently covered, allowing time to ensure the state's plan meets federal muster. But the state plan will come with a price tag because it would decertify 20 beds eligible for federal funds going forward.

Mayhew says that cost should not exceed $1 million a year. "There are very few that today we would see in those beds for which we would be losing federal revenue," Mayhew says. "So we are estimating that this will be less than a million-dollar impact."

What was approved was an expansion of the existing mental health unit at Maine State Prison, to take some of individuals that would have gone to Riverview. Corrections Commissioner Joe Ponte says the legislation clearly sets out who can be sent to the expanded unit.

"The types of mentally ill people that are going to be sent to us are they types of mentally ill offenders that we currently deal with, with less of the tools," Ponte says. "This bill actually gives us more tools to deal with that type of population that we haven't had before, so I think we are going to be more effective."

And Ponte acknowledges the $1.3 million for the expansion only covers the costs for the current budget year that ends next June 30. Lawmakers will have to provide additional funding in the January session to continue the expanded unit with its enhanced mental health services.

"It's new money, but I am not sure where the price tag is going to be, so until we get to there, then we can fight about where it comes from," Ponte says. "But right now, $3 million given initial thoughts on the unit we are going to run, but I think we can get a little better than that."

Members of the Appropriations Committee have deferred some of the more serious questions about quality of the care until the January session. Sen. Dawn Hill, a Democrat from Cape Neddick, co-chairs the panel.

"We do have a problem, and we need to start to address it, and this is one small, little first step in that direction," Hill says. "And I am hoping it will set up a number of paths for both the Legislature and the department to be dealing with problems at Warren and as well as Riverview."

The legislation creates a special legislative oversight panel to monitor both the situation at Riverview and the expansion of the prison mental health unit. It is expected to play a key role in addressing mental health services for those who pose a danger to themselves or others, whether they have committed a crime or not.

Photo: Mal Leary


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