Low state reimbursement causes nursing home closure

PITTSFIELD, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- People in the nursing home business say they expect more of the state's rural facilities might be forced to close because they still aren't getting paid enough by the state. The most recent home to announce closing is Pittsfield Rehab and Nursing.

The family-owned, 57-bed facility said late last week it will shut down in September. Mary Ford, who has run the home since 1994 and now owns it, says 90% of the patients are paid for by the state's Maine Care (Medicaid) program. Ford says the home loses $15 per day for each of those patients.

Pittsfield Rehab & Nursing used to be able to make up that loss through private-pay patients, which are few, and through short-term rehab patient covered by Medicare, which reimburses at a higher rate. However, she says the hospital next door to the nursing home has now converted some of its own beds to the rehab or "skilled nursing" classification, so those patients aren't coming to the nursing home anymore.

A study committee last year determined that the state needs to increase nursing home reimbursements by $30 million per year. Rick Erb, President of the Maine Health Care Association, says the Legislature approved a plan that will provide increased reimbursement of about $11 million in combined state and federal dollars this fiscal year.

The state is still analyzing financial records to determine how much of an increase each home will receive. The owner of the Pittsfield home said she couldn't afford to wait, could find no one to buy the facility, and made the decision to close.

Erb and Ford both say they expect more privately-owned, rural nursing homes may be forced to close because of inadequate Medicaid reimbursement.

The Pittsfield closing has prompted another round of finger-pointing among political leaders in Augusta. Republican leaders say they tried to get additional funding for this fiscal year, but say democrats rejected their plan. Democrats say they provided for the additional $11 million state and federal, and also approved an increase of $10 million in next year's budget – although that budget will not be proposed or debated until next year.

Republican Senate leader Michael Thibodeau says he then asked Democratic leaders to call a summer Special Session to vote non-added money for nursing homes, but claims Democrats refused.

"Nursing homes have been sounding the alarm about their financial plight, but it's fallen on deaf ears among the Democratic leadership," said Thibodeau in a GOP press release.

Countered Democratic Senate President Justin Alfond said "The Legislature made great strides in funding our nursing homes this past session. Older Mainers deserve our attention and they need our care; they don't need to be political pawns."

The Pittsfield nursing home, meanwhile, says its working to help families find new homes for their loved ones, and that most of the 66 staff members have agreed to stay on the job to help with the transitions.


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