Maine has a reputation as our nation’s oldest state and a valued destination for retirees. That’s not only because Maine is the most beautiful state in the country, but also because we care for our neighbors and recognize the value of our seniors. For many seniors, home health care is what allows them to age gracefully on their own terms, in their own homes and in the community they know and love. It also allows their family members to breathe easy, knowing their loved one has support when they can’t be there.

However, for more than a decade, our reimbursement rates for home health care services have remained stagnant, leaving our seniors and the individuals who care for them in crisis. The closure of Farmingdale-based Home Care for Maine must be a wake-up call. It’s why I’ve introduced bipartisan legislation to increase reimbursement rates for personal care and respite services, so we can ensure our seniors get the care they need in their homes.

In 2018, Priscilla Jenkins of Winthrop underwent routine hip replacement surgery. A year later, she was diagnosed with an infection in the same hip and rushed back to the hospital, where she remained bedridden for several weeks while having another surgery and getting antibiotics through an IV. Next, she went to a rehabilitation facility for another few weeks. It was quite the ordeal. When she finally returned home, it was home health care services that enabled her to make a full recovery. She visited me at the State House recently to share her story and urge reimbursement increases for these vital services.

L.D. 2137, “Resolve, To Increase the Reimbursement Rates for Home-based Services,” would raise reimbursement rates so home care agencies and workers who provide critical care to seniors like Priscilla can continue to do this important work. The legislation specifically focuses on what’s known as home-based care for the elderly and adults with disabilities, private duty nursing and personal care services and state-funded home based care services including consumer directed services. These are services that allow Maine seniors to age in place and provide their families some relief.

This is personal for me. One of the most influential people in my life was my grandfather, who passed away this summer at the age of 96. Before he passed, he was briefly hospitalized with pneumonia. When he returned to his retirement home, he required around the clock care for personal hygiene and feeding. Our family took shifts at his bedside in his final days, and we depended on personal care workers who came in and helped him stay comfortable. Personal care workers made his transition and passing easier at an extraordinarily emotional and difficult time for my family. They were a godsend to our family, and I know many families feel the same. We owe them our support and gratitude. That’s what this bill is all about.

Since I filed this emergency legislation, I’ve heard from constituents throughout my district about what personal care has meant to them and their families. They’ve confided in me their fears about the future if we fail to act. I spoke to one woman who recently lost her mother. As we talked about her mother’s final days, she reflected on how important it was that her mother was able to pass in her own home with support and personal care services from Home Care for Maine. Another woman reached out about a friend with a terminal diagnosis, who receives home care and is beside herself at the thought of losing these services when Home Care for Maine closes this spring. We can and must do better. Our friends, family and communities need these services. In fact, one day all of us will likely need these services.

Agencies can’t continue to care for our seniors and loved ones at a financial loss. It’s time to fix a decade of underfunding of vital services for our most vulnerable communities, including our seniors and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This bill is about solving one piece of the puzzle.

It’s an opportunity to put partisanship aside and solve this problem and make a difference moving forward. We stand on the shoulders of the generations that came before us. It’s our responsibility to care for them.

Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, represents Maine Senate District 14.

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