Lawmakers are backing pay raises for the employees of Maine’s two state-run psychiatric hospitals to address recruitment and turnover challenges among workers who serve patients with severe mental health challenges.

The Health and Human Services Committee voted 8-4 Wednesday to give $3-an-hour raises to the 600 workers of Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta and Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor. The vote was split along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans against.

“I know how difficult it is,” said Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville, a longtime mental health worker. “We need to fund these things. We need to make sure staff is well-trained and make sure they’re able to do their jobs so people can get out of the hospital and lead fulfilling lives.”

Republicans said they support the hospital employees, and want to see improved working conditions and pay in both institutions, but cautioned against sidestepping ongoing negotiations between the state and its unionized hospital workers.

Rep. Michael Lemelin, R-Chelsea, said the raise might make existing employees happy “for a few minutes,” but he warned that benefit wouldn’t last long or resolve the high number of unfilled openings plaguing both hospitals, estimated at 26 percent in Augusta and 15 percent in Bangor.

“We are assuming that money is going to solve this problem and it doesn’t,” Lemelin said. “It is a proven business fact that if you pay somebody $16 an hour and you raise it to $19 you’re not going to fill the position. You’re not going to have people knocking down the door.”


The Mills administration opposes the bill and noted that hospital employees had received three raises, a longevity bonus, shift differential, a direct care stipend and a $2,000 lump sum since 2019, said Breena Bissell, state director of human resources. They will get another 4 percent raise in July.

At a public hearing last month, dozens of frustrated hospital employees testified about dangerous, demoralizing working conditions. They recounted being kicked, bitten and stabbed by patients who are not adequately supervised due to unsafe staffing levels.

“Who would voluntarily sign up to be a human punching bag for the current offered wage?” asked Amanda Adamen, a single mother and nurse at Riverview. “While we are all aware of the potential dangers that accompany this line of work, the staffing levels within the hospital are perilous.”

Adamen, a full-time nursing graduate student, said she often works 16-hour shifts without a break clad in head-to-toe COVID-19 protective gear. She spent Christmas Day in urgent care unable to see because of facial swelling from an infection from wearing goggles so much.

“We are tired,” Adamen said. “We are burnt out. This stipend is long overdue.”

The bill, L.D. 1792, will be rewritten to include an amendment – the raise will now be given to Dorothea Dix employees as well as Riverview staff – and a fiscal note that will outline the bill’s financial impact before heading to the House for consideration.


Riverview has been plagued with problems for years, culminating in a 2013 federal audit – initiated after an attack on a staff member by a patient – that found numerous deficiencies. The hospital failed to ensure safety, failed to protect patients’ civil rights, failed to hold staff responsible for inadequate care and more.

It lost federal certification and the $20 million annual subsidy that came with it.

Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services and a group of plaintiffs with severe mental health and psychiatric disorders reached an agreement last year that could end 30 years of court oversight of state mental health services.

The report from the court master overseeing a 1990 consent decree involving the former Augusta Mental Health Institute outlines standards designed to ensure that mental health clients receive services promptly and that service providers are held accountable.

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