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Mental Health Services and Criminals; Where Are They Supposed to Go?

Riverview Psychiatric Center-Photo Credit Maine Department of Health and Human Services

For the sake of argument let’s make one thing perfectly clear.

Not everyone in Maine who suffers with mental illness is a criminal.

The reality is however, the number of those who are committing crimes in Maine, and do have a mental illness, is on the rise, and it’s creating a complex crisis for mental health services providers and the state’s corrections system.

“At our facility, since 2002, we’ve had five deaths due to suicide. We’ve had eighty-one  very serious suicide attempts, and so when we have a suicidal inmate we end up in the emergency rooms, and when that person is deemed to need the beds at Riverview or Dorothea Dix and they’re full, then we remain at the emergency room until that bed becomes available and sometimes that can take up to a week,” explains Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross. “That is a very poor way to use the emergency rooms and a very expensive way to use correctional dollars,” stated Ross.

A special committee is meeting at the State House to develop legislation to prevent Riverview psychiatric facility from losing twenty million in federal funding next week.

Advocates from the Maine Civil Liberties Union, officials from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services and others, will meet today to discuss problems facing the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta.

John Martins is the Communications Director for DHHS and he says Riverview in Augusta is one of the state’s two psychiatric care facilities in Maine and it has a total of ninety-two beds with fourty-four of those beds designated as court ordered beds.

Martins says the need for court ordered beds in on the rise and many of these people need to be physically restrained for their own protection, and the protection of others, but the federal government is not happy, in part, with the use of corrections officials in the state hospital’s acute unit setting, and Riverview receives federal funding through the medicaid and medicare system which is now in jeopardy.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has put Riverview on notice according to Martins.

“They have published a letter that states that as of September second if our plan to bring our hospital into compliance isn’t approved that there’s potential the hospital’s certification could be terminated,” explains Martins.

Martins says the legislature this Thursday is expected to look at LD 1515 once again.

LD 1515, or An Act to Increase the Availability of Mental Health Services and he believes passage of the legislation, which would create a mental health services unit at the Maine State Prison, would help as part of Riverview’s plan of action to bring the facility into compliance with the federal rules dictated by CAMS.

Sheriff Ross says nearly half of the jail population at any given time is addicted to drugs and a significant amount of his budget is spent on mental health related prescriptions for prisoners. He says he’s a strong proponent of LD 1515.

“Over the years we’ve downsized our mental health institutions by putting more of the mentally ill out on the streets. This has lead to more criminal problems within our communities and left the county jails to deal with a high number of mentally ill,” states Ross.

“We cannot continue to downsize our system and expect that it’s not going to surface somewhere else as a problem.  It’s like squeezing a balloon. It just pops out in a different area, and it’s showing up in our emergency rooms, it’s showing up in our communities, and in our jails.”

 

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