CALAIS, Maine — Mary Mayhew, Maine’s Health and Human Services commissioner, took delivery Thursday of a letter of appeal that challenges a proposal to close the 50-bed Atlantic Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Calais.
That letter was submitted by Calais Mayor Joseph Cassidy and is signed by 10 others.
Portland-based First Atlantic Healthcare, which owns the 39-year-old nursing home, told the Maine Department of Health and Human Services last April that it planned to mothball the Washington County facility as it makes plans to expand another facility it owns in Ellsworth and to build a new facility in Bucksport.
A DHHS certificate of need review panel recommended approval of the proposal last October, although Atlantic Rehab residents, staff and their families didn’t learn of the closure plan until late last month.
If the facility is closed, 96 workers will be out of a job, and the facility’s residents will be forced to relocate. Given the uncertainty of the situation, some residents already have moved, although families say finding new placements locally, or even regionally, has been a challenge as nursing home beds and assisted living services are scarce in rural Washington County.
In his letter, Cassidy asks Mayhew to consider the community impact of having to find new placements for the 32 Atlantic Rehab residents who remain at the facility.
“Closure of the home and the removal of these beds from Washington County will leave huge and unacceptable gaps in the care of our elderly citizens requiring nursing home care,” Cassidy wrote. “Those residents will be moved from familiar surroundings, family caregivers and [will be] sent to facilities that are significantly further away from their homes and families.”
The letter includes a statistical analysis of current nursing home bed availability in Washington County, which the numbers indicate is scarce.
“Residents that have already left Calais for other facilities have taken most of the available beds within Washington County,” Cassidy’s letter claims. “That leaves 32 residents with few options. We understand that First Atlantic has an obligation to place all their residents before closing, but we feel these placements, by virtue of time and distance their families will have to travel, will not be in their best interest.”
In January it was learned that First Atlantic was considering closing the facility on March 1. That news prompted Maine State Senate President Kevin Raye, who is a Washington County resident, to summon First Atlantic CEO Kenneth Bowden to Raye’s State House office for what turned out to be a three-hour meeting with members of Washington County’s legislative delegation. Subsequently, First Atlantic issued a press release that said closure of the facility is “not imminent.”
Raye said Friday he is distressed by how First Atlantic handled the matter, in not informing those affected in Calais of plans to close. “This is something First Atlantic has known about for at least a year,” Raye said. “The way this was handled, there was no opportunity for the community to respond and to look at ways to keep the facility open.”
“I find this situation both shocking and disappointing,” Raye said Friday. “It’s shocking in that a decision like this that is so devastating to the Calais community and the surrounding area can happen in utter secrecy. And it’s disappointing that [First Atlantic Healthcare] chose to approach it in that way, rather than reach out to local officials.”
Raye said there are ongoing discussions with the city of Calais, the local hospital and local legislators to explore strategies for keeping the facility’s doors open.
“There is a shared determination to do everything possible to determine the future of the facility, post-Atlantic,” he said. “Creating a nonprofit is one of many options. It’s an unusual approach, but it’s what happened back in the ’80s in Eastport when Eastport Memorial Hospital was closed. There was a locally driven effort to keep it open in the form of a nursing home.”
Raye said his legislative priorities now include revising the state’s certificate of need process so that communities impacted aren’t the last to learn about proposed changes that might affect local and regional quality of life.
“It’s shocking that the current [certificate of need] statute allows for a company to file a CON without notifying interested parties, the community and families in areas where beds could be removed,” he said. “My intention is to seek changes in that statute before this legislative session is over.”