June 19, 2018
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Calais stunned, blindsided by nursing home closure talk

By Tom Walsh, BDN Staff

CALAIS, Maine — There remain many more questions than answers for the staff, residents and families of the 52-bed Atlantic Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, but it appears the 39-year-old nursing home in Calais may soon be closed.

Calais City Manager Diane Barnes confirmed Tuesday that the facility may be mothballed, but refused any further comment. Among the facility’s 42 current residents who would be displaced by a closure is Barnes’ mother-in-law.

Closure of the local landmark will affect 92 workers, including nurses who work at the facility under a contract the Teamsters negotiated with Portland-based First Atlantic Healthcare. Calls made Tuesday afternoon to CEO Kenneth Bowden for comment on the closure went unreturned.

In a press release issued from Portland after those calls were placed, John Wood, the Calais facility’s administrator said “no closing is imminent.” Wood said he and others involved have been meeting with members of Washington County’s political delegation to explore ways of avoiding closure. Those discussions continue, Wood said, “but obviously time is of the essence.”

One facility staffer, who asked not to be named, said First Atlantic Healthcare issued orders about six weeks ago to stop accepting new patients and residents. No reason was tendered, the source said, and six applicants have been turned away since then.

What’s to become of the residents for whom the facility is now home remains another unknown. In a letter sent to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services last spring, Bowden told Phyllis Powell, the manager of the state’s certificate of need program, that the company planned to close the Calais facility and enlarge the Collier’s Nursing and Rehabilitation Center it owns in Ellsworth.

“We believe there is capacity within the Calais region to accommodate these patients as our [nursing facility] operations in Calais phase out,” the letter to Powell reads in part. The letter said expansion of the Ellsworth facility would require 16 months of construction and would cost an estimated $8.5 million. Ground has yet to be broken on that project.

“Once completed, we plan to relocate residents now living at Atlantic Rehab and Nursing to the newly renovated facility if they choose or into surrounding facilities, including Marshall’s Healthcare in Machias,” Bowden said in his letter to Powell, an apparent reference to Marshall Healthcare and Rehabilitation.

In a Nov. 17, 2011, analysis prepared by Powell and two state senior health care financial analysts, the proposal put forth by Bowden in May was recommended for approval, showing a construction cost estimate of $9.2 million.

An abstract of the First Atlantic application also indicates the company wants to build a new facility in Bucksport “of a similar size and scope of services” to the expanded Collier’s facility in Ellsworth. The replacement facility in Ellsworth, the company said, will include 16 nursing facility beds, 30 residential care level IV beds and 10 assisted living apartments.

Wood said it’s understandable that some staff, residents and family feel they have been left out of the loop as First Atlantic developed its plans to phase Atlantic Rehab out of use.

“I think that’s true,” he said.

Why was there so little communication between corporate headquarters in Portland and clients and staff in Calais?

“I don’t know,” Wood said.

Wood said he believes, given his understanding of the needs of the Calais region’s elderly population that there is sufficient local capacity to relocate Atlantic Rehab patients and residents close to home.

One Atlantic Rehab staffer said Tuesday that families are already beginning the process of finding new care and residential options given the cloud of uncertainty under which the facility is now being operated.

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