AUGUSTA (AP) – It looked like the legislative skids were greased to name Maine’s new 92-bed state hospital the Riverview Psychiatric Center.

After an exhaustive review of hundreds of suggestions, the name was chosen for the long-awaited replacement for the 163-year-old Augusta Mental Health Institute.

The Legislature even passed a resolve last year to that effect.

But on Monday, as lawmakers considered putting the Riverview name into the statutes, the whole idea was thrown into question. Senate President Beverly Daggett told the Health and Human Services Committee it might consider naming the new facility for Dorothea Dix.

“As a leader in the humane treatment of people with mental illness, it seems there would be a lot more meaning in the name than Riverview,” Daggett said before her committee appearance.

The idea took shape when Gov. John Baldacci issued a proclamation and lawmakers passed a resolution earlier this month marking the April 4, 1802, birthday of the mental health pioneer in Hampden.

Efforts by Dix led to the construction of the first asylum for the mentally ill and construction of dozens of hospitals around the country so mentally ill people could be removed from prisons.

In 1834, the state established the Maine Insane Hospital, which was then seen as a model for treatment of the people suffering from mental illness, said Sabra Burdick, acting commissioner of the Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services.

The Legislature decided to replace AMHI in the wake of a 1990 court decree that called for an overhaul of state mental health services. The old AMHI is being renovated and turned into state office space while the new facility, on 20 acres next to AMHI and across the Kennebec River from the State House, takes shape.

Daggett, D-Augusta, appeared to take Burdick by surprise when she appeared before the committee with her idea. Burdick had shown up to speak in favor of the Riverview name, but expressed an openness to new ideas.

But there’s still another wrinkle. At least one biography on the woman known in her day as “Dragon Dix” because of her no-nonsense style and willingness to stand up to those in power said she did not want any buildings named after her, the committee was told.

If that’s so, Dix didn’t get her way. A Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh is part of North Carolina’s mental health system, and Rhode Island’s Corrections Department runs a Dorothea Dix Minimum Security Facility.

Daggett did not insist that Dorothea Dix name be adopted, but said the committee might consider it as it decides how the statutes should list the name of Maine’s new mental hospital.

On the Net:

Augusta Mental Health Institute/Riverview Psychiatric Center:

Dorothea Dix biography:

AP-ES-04-28-03 1627EDT

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