PITTSFIELD — A local nursing home is closing — displacing aging residents and putting about 60 people out of work — because of financial hardship and outdated MaineCare rates.

Pittsfield Rehab & Nursing will stop providing nursing home services Sept. 5, according to Mary Ford, owner and manager. Her father, Jack Ford, founded the nursing home in 1978.

“It’s very hard,” she said. “Over the years we’ve tried to do everything we could to stay in business. There’s been times when I couldn’t make payroll and paid out of pocket. I guess right now I’m really focused on how to make this difficult transition as easy as possible.”

The closing highlights the importance of funding legislation to ensure that long-term care facilities are getting the money that they need and that MaineCare rates are keeping pace with the cost of care.

At Pittsfield, MaineCare — Medicaid — pays for more than 70 percent of the the 47 residents’ care, but the nursing homes haven’t had a significant MaineCare rate increase since 2005, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the MaineCare program.

L.D.1776, a bill passed by the state Legislature in April, calls for an update to rates and would give additional funding to nursing homes with more than 70 percent MaineCare residents, like the one in Pittsfield, but has yet to be implemented.

“It may not have made a lot of difference to some nursing homes that were on the verge but the department has known for at least the last three years that nursing homes are in dire straits, especially if they were serving over 70 percent of their population through MaineCare because MaineCare reimburses costs at such a low rate,” said State Senator Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, the bill’s sponsor.

The legislation should have gone into effect July 1, but the state can’t agree on where the money will come from.

Ford said it is too risky for the nursing home to continue to operate in hopes of getting reimbursed at an unspecified later date.

In an email, Department of Health and Human Services spokesman John Martins predicted Thursday that legislation will be enacted within the month so that providers can be paid retroactively for costs dating back to July 1.

“It’s not clear when the funding will come into play or how much it will be,” said Ford. “The way it works is you spend the money first. You’ll have to say, ‘I guess I have good faith this is going to happen and it’s going to get funded.’ They’re asking you to spend the money with the hope it will get funded and we’ll get the money back. Or you could spend the money and never get it back.”

The decision to close the Pittsfield home was made Monday and the nursing home is working to place residents in other homes around the state. The home also employs 66 people that will have to look for new jobs.

The Pittsfield residence is not the only care home in the state struggling to meet costs.

Oceanview Nursing Home & Residential Care in Lubec is scheduled to close in August and a nursing home in Calais that closed in 2012 was a motivating factor behind creation of a legislative committee to study the sustainability of the state’s long-term care residences.

“If MaineCare isn’t paying what it needs to pay then we do see these kinds of situations,” said Nadine Grosso, vice president of the Maine Health Care Association, a nonprofit group dedicated to long-term and assisted living facilities in Maine. “There are several nursing homes that have closed within the last three years and financial struggle is certainly a key reason why.”

Maine is one of the last states in the country to create a mechanism so that state-funded rates keep pace with rising costs, she said. In addition, rural nursing homes such as Pittsfield Rehab & Nursing face additional challenges, including reduced patient demand and the liklihood that they do not have partnerships with hospitals that can provide additional support.

“It’s not a new issue,” said Ford. “There are regulations in nursing homes that require certain staffing levels and certain quality levels. We have always met those levels, but in order to do that you need to spend money and the rate at which we are getting reimbursed is not up to date.”

MaineCare payments have been about $15 per day short of meeting the home’s cost, said Ford. That’s about $500 in costs the home is having to make up every day — either through Medicare, a federal program or private money.

The town of about 4,000 does have another long-term care residence, the Pittsfield Community Home, although it is smaller according to Town Manager Kathryn Ruth. She said the town has explored the possibility of applying for grants or economic development assistance to keep the larger residence open.

“It certainly is a loss to the town,” she said. “It’s a loss for any town when a long-term care facility closes because you have citizens that have lived in town all these years and want to stay in Pittsfield to be close to their family and friends. Now they’ll be living further away and it’s a loss to the sense of community.”

Morning Sentinel staff writer Jesse Scardina contributed to this report.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

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