State court to evaluate abuse at Riverview psychiatric center

Serious issues occurring at the Riverview Psychiatric Hospital in Augusta will soon be presented before a Superior Court judge for evaluation and possible punishment. Dan Wathen, the court master for the Riverview investigation, made this decision after reviewing Riverview’s operations through numerous meetings with employees and touring the facility. Prompted by last December’s incident involving the pepper spraying of a female patient, Wathen refuses to allow the issues to be swept under the rug. “It’s a violation of the court order,” Wathen told the Press Herald earlier this week. “It has to be reported to the court, and then the court can determine what the consequences are.”

These reports of abuse are not new to the mental health community in Augusta. Prior to Riverview, the Augusta Mental Health Institute served as the state’s central psychiatric hospital. However, due to complaints of patient abuse, this center was shut down in 2003. The following year Riverview opened on the same campus to serve as a replacement, and a consent decree was established for the facility due to the previous hospital’s abuse. Yet with Riverview’s many recent incidents, it is currently not meeting this mandatory consent decree.

Determined to make change, Wathen met with the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee this past Wednesday, and was accompanied by Riverview’s superintendent Jay Harper. As a result of the meeting, all red flags surrounding Riverview’s functioning as a facility, including the pepper-spray incident, are to be reported to Maine Superior Court Justice Andrew Horton.

One major issue Wathen highlighted is Riverview’s Lower Saco, a unit in the hospital that serves to segregate and ultimately isolate its more difficult patients. This segregation ironically results in decreased access to treatment opportunities for those patients who need help the most. In addition, the Lower Saco staff is not specialized or trained to work with the hospital’s most difficult patients and as a result have been reported to use extreme restrainment methods on patients such as handcuffs and stun guns. Furthermore, Riverview’s policy does not enforce Lower Saco patients to take anti-psychotic or any prescribed medications, which creates opportunities for conflict between patients and staff members.

Ultimately, the Lower Saco unit serves as a violation of the imposed consent decree as it prevents patients from obtaining equal access to hospital care. Because of these deficiencies, the federal agency cut 75 percent of the hospital’s funding in 2013 after inspection, resulting in the administration’s reluctant decision to decertify the Lower Saco.

Looking for redemption, Riverview underwent another federal inspection this past spring, yet received poor reviews as well as the denial the recertification of the Lower Saco.

The next inspection is likely to occur soon and should be a telling sign of Riverview’s efforts for progress. Due to Riverview’s failure to meet the set consent decree in addition to the numerous incidences of patient abuse, Horton can legally charge the hospital with several penalties.

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