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Politics

Lawmakers, Advocates Debate Psychiatric Facility Proposal

Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to build a new psychiatric facility drew support and opposition at a public hearing Thursday.

Some questioned the authority of the governor to build and operate the facility — which would handle patients in state custody who no longer need the hospital-level care they get at the Riverview Psychiatric Center — without specific legislative approval.

“We do not believe that the department can operate an new program like the step-down facility without financial and other backing from the Legislature,” says Omi Amarasingham, policy director at the ACLU of Maine.

The need for a facility was supported by several at the hearing, even though most complained of a lack of detail to the proposals.

“The lack of transparency around this issue raises significant civil liberties concerns for the due process rights of the patients, those who will be transferred into this unit and those that will be denied transfer into this unit,” Amarasingham says.

Former Maine Supreme Court Chief Justice Dan Wathen is the court master overseeing the state’s implementation of a consent decree that covers the quality of care the state provides to those who are mentally ill. He says such a facility is needed, and while building it next to Riverview makes sense, it could also be built in Bangor.

“You know as a practical matter, if you said to me, ‘Dan, which would be the most convenient location?’ I would say, ‘Well it makes sense to put it next to the mothership, that is where it should be.’ But, it could be in Bangor,” he says.

Lawmakers plan to meet again later this month on the issue.