More than 30 nursing or residential care facilities in Maine have closed since 2014. Scary, isn’t it?

We recently learned that Seaport, the one remaining skilled nursing facility in Hancock County, closed on March 1. Not too many years ago, there were six nursing facilities in Hancock County. These facilities were vital in providing much-needed health care for Maine’s older citizens, who could not care for themselves. These closures are not exclusive to rural Maine — it is happening in urban and suburban areas across the state.

There are several reasons why these facilities are closing. The COVID-19 pandemic not only dealt a terrible blow to millions of Americans, but it has created a significant shortage of registered nurses throughout the entire United States. Many of our nurses who staff hospitals and other health care facilities are now employed by traveling nurse organizations, some of which charge health care facilities at least $90 an hour to work there. Only well-endowed health care facilities can afford to pay these rates.

It is my understanding that the Maine Legislature, to its credit, provided $80 million dollars during the COVID-19 pandemic to help health care facilities pay these increasing nursing costs. I testified three times during the 2023 legislative session before the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee advocating for additional state funding specifically for nursing homes. I was told by a legislator after the third time I testified that the Legislature was not going to appropriate any additional funds to health care facilities because of the high cost of nurses’ salaries. Several members of Maine’s nursing home industry met with Gov. Mills to advocate for more state funding but were not successful.

State health officials have acknowledged that the reimbursement system for nursing homes is antiquated. There is a task force  reviewing the reimbursement system, but its report is not due until January 2025. In the meantime, our nursing homes continue to close.

I am sure that state officials will tell us that they are trying to provide more health care in the form of home services to those who need care. While this is a worthy cause, we learned recently that in-home care in a portion of Hancock County has been stopped because of a lack of appropriate staff.

The U.S. Census reports that Maine has the highest per capita number of senior citizens of any state in the union. Yet, we are letting nursing facilities be closed because our governments (both state and federal) are unwilling to reimburse facilities for the cost of care. Here is the dilemma many older Mainers face: They live alone and have no one to care for them if they become sick. Other senior citizens may have families who might be able to care for them depending on how sick they are and what their needs are, but there will others who live with families who cannot care for them. Many husbands and wives in Maine work to pay the bills, and there is no one to care for seniors who require more than a drop-in visit once or twice a week.

I am quite certain that most Mainers are not aware of how serious a problem we have on our hands of caring for our older citizens. Don’t we owe them much more consideration as they age and have health problems? We all must talk with our legislators, Gov. Mills and our congressional delegation to express our concerns. It’s time for solutions to this serious problem.

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