BANGOR, Maine — A long running political argument over a new mental health facility may now be settled.
Gov. Janet Mills announced Wednesday that the building now under construction in Bangor, which was the center of a plan by former Gov. Paul Lepage, will be used to upgrade the existing Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Hospital at the same site.
The new building is scheduled to be finished in May, according to Mills. It was originally planned to be a "step down" facility that would take court-committed patients from the Riverview Hospital in Augusta as a way to help regain federal certification for Riverview. But the plan became embroiled in partisan friction between LePage and Democrats in the Legislature.
LePage first proposed the facility be built in Augusta next to Riverview, and that it be staffed by a private contractor. Democrats resisted and would not approve the plan, so LePage announced he would build the facility on state-owned land in Bangor where he did not require Legislative approval.
At the time, then-Attorney General Janet Mills questioned the process and other Democrats raised complaints, but the project slowly moved ahead. The Riverview re-certification process also continued, and two weeks ago the hospital finally regained federal approval for the first time since 2013. And Mills says that changed the discussion.
"Riverview is a different facility than it was when the step-down facility was originally proposed," said Mills. "We as a state and community of caring individuals are in a different situation than we were several years ago."
Instead of being a transfer site for patients coming out of Riverview Psychiatric Center, the Governor announced the new building will basically become an expansion of the existing Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Hospital, located at the same site in Bangor -- an additional destination for those in need of acute psychiatric care.
"My administration has decided to use it to address other needs in the mental health system. It will serve people in need of acute psychiatric care, including those who have been deemed incompetent to stand trial and those transferred from jails for psychiatric needs."
Mills and DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said the new facility will cost $6.9 million per year to operate, with about $4.3 million expected to be paid for through Medicaid.
The new facility is expected to hold 20 patients and require roughly 50 additional staff members. The Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center currently operates 50 beds.
The added funding will need approval from the Legislature.