The Department of Health and Human Services joined with the Maine Health Care Association to announce recently the emergency release of $13.1 million in Medicaid dollars to shore up the nursing home crisis in Maine. Releasing these Medicaid surplus funds was bigger than business or politics — it was the humane thing to do.

MaineCare suffers from chronic budget shortfalls and funding issues, and releasing $4.6 million of surplus Medicaid funds to trigger a release of $8.5 million in federal matching funds was the right thing to do, but for some it was tragically too late.

Two nursing homes from Lubec and Pittsfield were forced to close because of underfunding, and this will create a humanitarian crisis in those communities. Not only will jobs will be lost, but the residents will be forced to move out and their family members will have to step in to pick up the pieces.

Unfortunately, the ripple effect of these closings will go further than the residents and their families. This influx of people with chronic, 24/7 care needs brings new pressures on the local health care systems and social services. And as more aging members of these towns require nursing home care, they will add to this local crisis situation.

Medicaid reimbursement rates are typically one-third less than private pay rates, and for many care providers these levels are actually less than the costs of care being delivered.

Nursing homes provide critical health care services to a vulnerable population and operate on razor-thin margins. Delays or chronic underfunding for their services can far too often lead to closures, and tremendous hardships for the communities they serve. Although it may be too late for the people of Lubec and Pittsfield, this influx of funding is needed across the state and may stop more potential closures.

Chris Orestis


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