Social worker sues Riverview Psychiatric Center, former boss

A new lawsuit filed by a clinical social worker at Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta alleges years of harassment and negligence at the 92-bed state psychiatric hospital, saying staff and patients have been endangered in the process.

Starting in 2011, Jennifer Taghavidinani of Oakland complained of harassment and mistreatment to her supervisor, then to the hospital’s human resources director. Taghavidinani said some staff members at the hospital were not acting professionally and that both she and patients there were suffering as a result. She filed a grievance through her union, filed a formal complaint with a government oversight office, shared her experiences at Riverview with Daniel Wathen, who serves as court master for a consent decree governing how the state is to treat people who have severe and persistent mental illness, and she spoke to the press.

Now, she’s suing Riverview, which has been plagued with problems of recruiting and keeping staff who oversee people who are committed through the state’s criminal and civil system. Meanwhile, state lawmakers recently blocked Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to allow some dangerous or violent psychiatric patients to be held in a special Maine State Prison mental health unit, a stalemate that highlights ballooning concerns about the hospital’s future.

Taghavidinani also names former superintendent Jay Harper in the complaint, which seeks damages for “extreme anxiety, sadness, frustration and despair because of the way she was treated at Riverview.” Harper resigned as Riverview superintendent in March.

“Riverview failed repeatedly to respond to reports of unsafe and illegal practices made in good faith in the interests of the patients and staff,” the complaint alleges.

Taghavidinani, through Portland attorney Cynthia Dill, filed the lawsuit in Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta alleging the Augusta psychiatric facility allowed harassment, retaliation and threatening against Taghavidinani and gave unwarranted privileges to violent forensic patients, who have been deemed not criminally responsible or incompetent to stand trial because of mental illness.

Published in the Portland Press Herald 4-16-16