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LePage, Lawmakers At Odds Over Funding For Proposed Mental Health Facility

Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic state Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook are facing off over the ongoing dispute involving construction of a new mental health facility.

At a news conference earlier this week, the governor was asked the status of the so-called step-down unit he had said would be built in Bangor on state-owned land adjacent to the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center. LePage said he was still waiting for the Legislature to get him the money to move forward on the project.

“Back in December I was told, ‘Riverview, not a problem, we’re going to get that approved. We’re going to get that facility built, going to get you the money,’” he says. “Still waiting. No I haven’t moved ahead on it, I still need the money.”

Gattine, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, says he’s perplexed by that response. He says LePage had written a series of letters in which he stated his intent to build the facility in Bangor and pay for it with unspecified money.

“Last we heard from the administration they were planning on moving forward, and you know, in spite of anything the Legislature wanted, and they claimed that they had identified specific accounts where there was money to pay for the creation and operation of the step-down facility,” he says.

The committee voted unanimously back in January to recommend that the legislative council approve a plan to build the new facility in Augusta, not Bangor. But LePage has argued that Bangor is a better location for the $3.5 million, 22-bed facility.

“Why is it such a big deal that you have all your eggs in Augusta instead of having a different location? They have never come back and talked to us about that, ever,” he says.

Gattine says that is not true. He says the committee has invited the governor several times to appear in person and discuss the issue, but the governor declined.

Gattine says both in writing and in hearings on the two-year state budget, the panel has pressed for information on how the administration planned to pay for the building and operation of the proposed Bangor facility, but got no response. He says no one on the committee is disputing the need for the facility, but he says it should be in Augusta, and is introducing legislation to assure that it is located there, next to the troubled Riverview Psychiatric Center.

“It’s been four years now since the federal government came in and did the inspection that led to the decertification of Riverview. Time and time again the Legislature has stepped up and funded things that have been requested by the administration. But, we need to move this issue forward,” he says.

Riverview lost about $20 million a year in federal funding starting in 2013 because federal officials determined the hospital was improperly housing patients who needed intense hospital treatment alongside those who no longer required that kind of care. The latter population would be housed in this new unit.