Whatever you think of Gov. Paul LePage, you’ve got to give him credit for one thing: he’s got a way of sounding convincing, even if the facts sometimes get in the way. The governor’s style may be abrasive, but when he wants to make a point he knows how to make it loudly, often with a catchy sound bite.
Most recently, the governor has cast himself as a champion of Maine’s nursing homes and, by extension, the elderly Mainers they serve. This is a seismic shift, because frankly, over the past four years, this administration has consistently pursued policies that would have inflicted tremendous harm to older Mainers.
In 2011, his proposed budget tried to cut $60 million in assisted living facilities (4,000 seniors would have lost their housing). Last year, he tried to eliminate Maine’s highly successful Drugs for the Elderly program (35,000 would have lost access to medicine). His failed MaineCare transportation system has left our elderly neighbors out in the cold and his relentless attacks on revenue sharing threaten the ability of older Mainers to remain in their homes.
Last month, in fact, he vetoed legislation to infuse Maine’s nursing homes with an additional $24 million and increase rates to adult day care providers. So even if the record doesn’t always correspond to his new interest in the elderly, let’s make the most of it. I would urge him to pursue real action in four areas that would make a real difference the lives of our elderly neighbors.
First, the governor should read Maine’s Blueprint for Action on Aging. He doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel because earlier this year, House Speaker Mark Eves, the Maine Council on Aging and 370 concerned Mainers convened in Augusta to develop a plan to improve the lives of older Mainers. Democrats and other advocates have already done a lot of the work, we just need the governor to come along.
Second, the governor should improve access to home care. Although we need long-term care facilities, most elderly Mainers want to remain in their homes as long as possible. Maine’s network of homecare providers is in crisis because it hasn’t had a rate increase in over 10 years and many home care providers aren’t able to continue delivering services, especially in rural areas. It’s difficult to find staff to do this difficult work when agencies are forced to pay less than $10 an hour. Home care is a much more cost-effective way to deliver services compared to nursing homes, but we need to make it economically feasible for providers and workers.
Third, the governor should abandon his relentless attacks on revenue sharing, the funds promised to local communities that they use to provide vital municipal services like schools, firefighting and law enforcement. Cuts to revenue sharing cause hikes in property taxes, which have a disproportionate effect on the elderly who live on fixed incomes. Older Mainers shouldn’t suffer because the governor is unwilling to keep his commitment to cities and towns.
Last but absolutely not least, the governor should accept federal dollars to expand MaineCare. If we want people to be healthy in their old age, we need to invest in preventative care when they are middle-aged. If you want people to be healthy in their 70s, 80s and 90s, then manage their chronic diseases and provide them with access to doctors and medicine when they are in their 40s, 50s and 60s. This is just common sense.
Expansion would also provide health care to thousands of home care workers — the very people who help the elderly remain in their homes — and a financial boost to Maine’s health care businesses, including rural health centers and home health agencies.
Nursing homes are essential, and the Legislature made critical investments in them this past session. But there’s more to the picture: older Mainers need our help and deserve our attention — not only in an election year but always. They’ve worked hard to create the Maine we all enjoy and we owe it to them to do whatever possible to keep them happy and healthy and in their homes.
Rep. Erik Jorgensen, D-Portland, is a member of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.