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Maine Lawmakers Grill Riverview Superintendent

Mal Leary

A violent assault over the weekend at the Riverview Psychiatric Center couldn't have come at a worse time for the troubled hospital, which is trying to win re-accreditation and recover $20 million in federal funding. And some members of a legislative oversight committee today grilled Riverview's superintendent about the sudden appearance of a new sign in front of the hospital, suggesting administrators are more focused on image than on fixing the problems that plague what is now called "Riverview Psychiatric Recovery Center."


Police were called to Riverview this weekend, after an an angry patient struck a registered nurse in the face with a chair, causing lacerations that required hospitalization.

Sen. Margaret Craven, a Lewiston Democrat and co-chair of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, wonders whether the attack could have been prevented. "It's very unfortunate, she's been very seriously hurt," Craven said.

Meanwhile, the Riverview administration has placed a new $1,800 sign in front of the facility, which has been renamed the Riverview Psychiatric Recovery Center. The unofficial name change seemed like a case of misplaced priorities to Craven who was in Augusta for a joint meeting of the Human Services and Appropriations committees.

"They're not changing the name of the hospital, they're not changing the paperwork, they're not changing anything, but they put this big sign outside," Craven said. "In the light of all that's going on there, $20 million at risk and, as you know, the nurse getting really, really, really hurt on Saturday, that it is so superficial to throw up a sign and, I suppose, and pretend that you're doing something good. I don't know. It just doesn't make any sense to me."

"First of all, let me make it clear that that was a decision on my part," said Jay Harper, the Riverview superintendent. Harper told lawmakers that the idea for the unofficial name change emerged during one of the meetings he regularly holds with patients to discuss their concerns. Harper says several of the patients described the facility's official name - Riverview Psychiatric Center - as demoralizing.

"And the sense was that they really have no hope, they're just kind of stuck there and you're labeled with your diagnosis and that's kind of the end of your life, and the commonality amongst the consumer groups is to have this vocabulary around the concept of recovery," Harper said. "We recover, we go back to being whole people. Ideally, the structure should be to help us get jobs, return to our families and our communities and take on a regular life."

The attack on the registered nurse occurred just a few days after the sign went up, Harper says the incident remains under internal review, but would appear to reflect the inherent dangers in the workplace, rather than an absence of protocols.

"This is an unfortunate reality of the work that we do," Harper said. "Individuals, without any way that we can necessarily predict or see, can strike out. And if you're in the way of them striking out, even if they had intention or no intention, you're still going to be hurt."

Lawmakers told Harper that they'd like to see whatever reports he could share related to the investigation of the incident, and whether the hospital had the appropriate safety protocols in place. Craven says the incident did not inspire confidence that conditions at the hospital are improving.

"Riverview is in such turmoil already, and when something like this happens on top of all that, and it's been going on now for such a long time, it's just hurtful and scary - and I'm sure it is for families and for people who work there as well," Craven said.

Harper says the administration is conducting a root cause analysis of the assault that should be completed next week.