CALAIS, Maine — A cloud of uncertainty continues to loom over the Atlantic Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Calais, as the owners of the facility map its future in a way that could soon displace more elderly residents.
Portland-based First Atlantic Healthcare has received permission from Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services to shut down what was once a 50-bed facility as it pursues plans to construct a new $8.5 million nursing home in Ellsworth. That would necessitate relocation of Atlantic Rehab residents.
The timing of a closure remains anyone’s guess.
First Atlantic at one point planned to shut down the Atlantic Rehab on March 1, but backed away from that timeline after a firestorm of local protest. CEO Kenneth Bowden now says his company is eager to find a way to keep the facility open, but says that goal is being undermined by residents moving out over the past few weeks.
Although ongoing negotiations are being held close to the vest, First Atlantic Healthcare has reportedly offered to sell the facility to the city of Calais, or some hybrid nonprofit entity yet to be established. Those negotiations are being conducted by a coalition of Calais area community leaders, including Maine State Senate President Kevin Raye, who is a Washington County resident.
On a separate front, Calais Mayor Joseph Cassidy recently appealed the decision to allow the closure, but DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew has yet to decide if that appeal will be considered. Meanwhile, residents and their families are exploring other living arrangements, although, according to a survey by the city of Calais, options for local relocation are few.
“It is unlikely that all of the residents from the Calais facility could even be placed in Washington County or neighboring county facilities,” Cassidy said in his letter to Mayhew.
Cassidy says a Feb. 2 phone survey showed there were 18 beds available collectively in Ellsworth, Houlton, Jonesboro, Lincoln, Lubec and Milbridge. Other regional facilities polled are not only filled, the survey showed, but have waiting lists.
Cassidy’s letter also stresses the distance between Calais and what few nursing home beds are available elsewhere. It includes an analysis of one-way drive times from Calais to other regional nursing homes. Those drive times range from 2 hours, 36 minutes to the Mountain Heights facility in Patten to 40 minutes to Eastport.
Cassidy notes that drive times would be affected by where families live. The remaining 32 residents at the Calais facility are from Baileyville, Calais, Pembroke, Princeton, Robbinston and Topsfield.
Given the uncertainty of the situation, residents of both nursing home and assisted living placements have been fleeing Calais. That exodus has forced Teamsters Local 340, which represents 50 nurses and 42 other support staff at Atlantic Rehab, to develop strategies for downsizing that work force as the patient population continues to decline.