BANGOR, Maine — It’s official: The state of Maine has gotten out of the business of providing direct institutional care to people with severe mental retardation.
The state-owned and -operated Elizabeth Levinson Center, which provides care to Maine children and young adults with severe mental retardation, will be run by a private nonprofit organization starting on March 1.
The state awarded the contract on Tuesday to United Cerebral Palsy of Northeastern Maine.
“It’s a very good program. It’s a quality program,” Bobbi Jo Yeager, the nonprofit’s executive director, said Wednesday of the Levinson Center. “We believe we can do as good a job, … and I think, in the long run, it will save [the state] some money.”
The long-term care facility located at 159 Hogan Road has 13 residents and almost 50 employees who provide 24-hour nursing to the residents. The workers will be laid off by the state of Maine officially on Feb. 28, said Jane Gallivan, director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adults with Cognitive and Physical Disabilities.
In order to assure continuity of care to the center’s residents, Yeager said she hopes that most employees will choose to stay at the center and work for United Cerebral Palsy.
“We are committing to rehiring as many people who want to stay at the Levinson Center as we can,” she said. “Based on the economic conditions right now, I’m hoping that the majority of these people will want to keep their jobs.”
Gallivan said that one area where money will be saved is employee benefits.
“Clearly, the benefits package will be less than what the state offers,” she said.
Mary Moody of Hallowell is the mother of a 26-year-old Levinson Center resident who has lived there for more than a decade. Moody said she and other parents are worried about the employees, who might not choose to stay if their benefits are cut.
“I had parents calling me last night to ask me what this means,” she said. “The families are concerned. … As a parent, I’m concerned about the quality of care that’s going to be provided.”
Moody said that many of the residents have grown attached to their care providers — some of whom have been there for many years — though none of the youth can express that through speech.
“These kids are very severely retarded and medically fragile,” she said. “But they still have the feelings that we do.”
The Levinson Center, which opened in 1971 to serve children from all over the state, is the last of several former state-operated programs for children with mental retardation to be turned over to the private sector. The first such facility, and the largest, was the Pineland Center in New Gloucester, which closed its doors in 1996.
More recently, the Aroostook Residential Center in Presque Isle and Freeport Town Square have gone through the privatization process. Earlier this year, Health and Human Services Commissioner Brenda Harvey said the private agencies that took over these programs retained many existing employees.
Harvey said that it costs the state about $3.2 million a year to run the Levinson Center.
Now the “proposed daily rate” the state will pay to United Cerebral Palsy of Northeastern Maine is $669.44 per child, said Gallivan. The costs are covered by MaineCare, and the federal government matches the state 66 cents for every dollar spent, she said.
“It’s just easier to have this done in the private sector,” Gallivan said.
Although she did not have the contract available, the daily rate multiplied by 13 children works out to a cost of $3.17 million a year.
The state originally had planned to turn the Levinson Center over to a private company by the beginning of last summer, but because of unsatisfactory bids for the contract, the process was delayed.
United Cerebral Palsy and Treats Falls House in Orono were the only agencies that originally bid for the contract.
State officials worked with United Cerebral Palsy to satisfy the “areas of concern” they had, such as the salaries of employees, the staffing schedule and how respite care would be provided, Gallivan said.
The agency also had to go through a “financial clearinghouse,” she said, to make sure it met the standards to receive a Certificate of Need.
United Cerebral Palsy employs more than 170 people to serve 1,000 children per year in five counties, Yeager said. Although the agency does not now run a facility similar to the Levinson Center, it does run other children’s programs, including a residential facility in Old Town that serves kids with mental illness and severe be-havioral problems.
The first step in the transition process will be to have United Cerebral Palsy staff meet with Levinson Center employees, residents and the residents’ parents or guardians.
“We’re committed to having a very smooth transition,” Yeager said.