The Riverview Psychiatric Recovery Center is so short-staffed that its workers are forced to work overtime. This is unfair to the people who work at the Augusta hospital, and it jeopardizes the treatment of its patients.

The problems at Riverview have been known for years — the hospital lost its federal certification in 2013 for a host of issues, including inadequate staffing. Gov. Paul LePage could have made hiring more personnel and increasing their pay a priority, as he has done for the Department of Corrections, Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, Maine State Police and other law enforcement agencies.

But, instead of focusing squarely on hiring more people, the Department of Health and Human Services and the LePage administration continue to blame Riverview’s poor working conditions on forces beyond their control. And their solution hinges on building new facilities.

Daniel Wathen, the retired Maine Supreme Court chief justice who oversees the state’s mental health facilities as part of a court-ordered consent decree, has laid out the hiring changes that need to happen in a progress report he filed with the Kennebec County Superior Court on Monday. This is the blueprint for addressing Riverview’s staffing needs.

Wathen’s order states that as of Jan. 19, Riverview had 51 total staff vacancies, including a nursing shortage that Wathen said is “undoubtedly the most pressing problem.” Of 87 authorized nursing positions, 23 are vacant, he wrote. As a result, overtime hours at the end of 2015 were totaled 1,500 to 2,000 per month. The number of total vacancies has dropped to 39, said department spokeswoman Samantha Edwards.

Last week, DHHS held an employment open house at Riverview, which more than 50 people attended. It is also working with nursing schools to recruit applicants and considering a change in nursing shifts to match popular shifts at private hospitals, Edwards said.

The governor’s commitment to improving Riverview is less clear. In a radio interview on Tuesday, LePage blamed state Sen. Roger Katz, chairman of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, for holding up progress at Riverview by holding “kangaroo courts.” The Republican senator, who represents the Augusta area where many Riverview employees live, held a meeting last month with the facility’s staff.

These employees talked about compensation being too low, but their bigger concerns were the impact mandated overtime had on morale, retention and recruitment, as well as patient care. Employees were also concerned that understaffing put them at risk from violent patients. They noted as well that they were unable to get needed training because they couldn’t leave the hospital floor, Katz said.

LePage has made hiring and raising salaries for other categories of state personnel a priority. For example, he long demanded more drug enforcement agents to help address the state’s drug epidemic. Lawmakers approved four new agents last year and, as part of a drug bill passed last month, authorized the hiring of 10 more.

Likewise, the governor has called for an increase in salaries for law enforcement officers to help fill vacancies in agencies such as the Maine State Police and Maine Warden Service. He pushed for increased pay for Department of Corrections employees, which has made it easier to hire them. He persuaded the Legislature to raise the salaries of his appointed commissioners and other executive branch employees. A new policy granted many of these employees more vacation days as well.

There has been no such advocacy on behalf of the employees of Riverview. But it’s clear that filling vacancies at Riverview, for the benefit of patients and employees, must be made a high priority.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...