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LePage Predicts Feds Will Reverse Obama Admin Decision & Recertify Riverview

Mal Leary
Maine Public/file
The Riverview Psychiatric Center in August, 2014.

Gov. Paul LePage predicts that the Trump administration will re-certify the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, a move that would protect $20 million in federal funding. The governor also reiterated his unsubstantiated claim that the Obama administration’s decertification of the hospital nearly four years ago was politically motivated.

LePage officials have repeatedly asserted that the decertification of the 92-bed hospital nearly four years ago was unfair and likely an attempt to retaliate for pushing policies unpopular with the Obama White House. But it wasn’t until the governor’s radio appearance on Bangor radio station WVOM Tuesday that anyone made a specific accusation, at least publicly.

“They’re looking into whether or not it wasn’t a political retaliation because we did not expand and that’s what we claim,” LePage says.

The governor’s mention of “expand” is a reference to Medicaid expansion. The LePage administration has thwarted multiple attempts to expand the program — known in Maine as MaineCare. Expansion was offered through the Affordable Care Act and is considered a key component of the health law. But LePage successfully defeated those attempts after several pitched battles with Democrats in the Legislature.

And he apparently believes his success was punished by the Obama administration.

“This was a move by the Obama administration to poke us in the eye,” he says.

LePage believes that he and DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew made a persuasive case to re-certify Riverview when they met with Trump’s health secretary Tom Price last week in D.C.

“I’m gonna predict that they’re going to be sensible, common sense people and we’re gonna get Riverview re-certified,” LePage says.

The governor says his administration has evidence of retaliation, but has not provided any. Mayhew would not say if she believed the Obama administration was exacting revenge. But she did say that the Obama White House fiercely opposed the LePage administration’s efforts to overhaul welfare and other initiatives.

Mayhew also says that the Obama administration appeared to treat Riverview differently than other psychiatric hospitals.

“We continue to believe that the federal government was applying an unfair and inaccurate standard to Riverview hospital — very different from their approach to other hospitals in other states,” she says.

The battle over Riverview has raged in Augusta since 2013 when the federal government threatened to yank the hospital’s funding after a series of audits. The inspections found that the hospital had numerous problems, including the use of stun guns, pepper spray and handcuffs on patients and improper record-keeping. The LePage administration created a plan to address the audit findings. The feds initially accepted the plan, but later found deficiencies at the hospital that the LePage administration deemed unfair.

LePage is confident that Trump officials will agree. Mayhew is also hopeful, but she stopped short of making any predictions.

“The important part of any leader’s job is to be able to admit when mistakes were made and to rectify those mistakes,” she says.

“It’s disappointing for the LePage administration and Commissioner Mayhew to continue to not take responsibility and ownership of the problems there,” says Democratic Representative Drew Gattine of Westbrook.

He is the former co-chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee. He calls LePage’s comments revisionist history designed to distract from the administration’s mismanagEment of the hospital.

Regardless of who’s to blame, LePage officials hope the Trump administration will re-certify the hospital and do so retroactively. Mayhew says that will allow the state off the hook if any liability claims are filed during the nearly four years the hospital was deemed out of compliance.

Mayhew also said that re-certification will not cancel the administration’s plans to build a $3.5 million facility for a new facility for forensic patients. Forensic patients are those in state custody who have been found not criminally responsible because of mental illness but who no longer need hospital treatment. The administration previously argued that the facility would help the state’s case to re-certify the hospital. But Mayhew said Tuesday that the recertification won’t eliminate the need for the new facility.