CALAIS, Maine — Philip and Marice Chaffee will celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary next week. Thankfully, their daughter Sue Claridge of Calais says, the couple will be spending their special day together.
For the past two years, Marice, 82, has been a resident of the Atlantic Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Calais, a 50-bed facility that at one point was scheduled for closure this month. Philip, who is 89, continues to live in the couple’s home, which is five blocks away, and he visits his wife twice a day.
Plans to close the 39-year-old facility were approved last fall by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. The closure is now on hold after DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew agreed this week to review the decision after fielding concerns voiced by community members who would be forced to relocate residents to other communities.
That won’t be easy, according to Calais Mayor Joseph Cassidy, who told Mayhew in a recent letter that alternative nursing home placements within Washington County are virtually impossible to find.
“They’ve been together a long time,” Claridge, who lives in Calais, said of her parents on Wednesday. “I think moving her would kill them both. My mother has Parkinson’s, which involves some dementia, and I have my dad to think about, too. He shouldn’t have to travel. He probably shouldn’t be traveling even the five blocks he does now.”
News of impending closure caught the community by surprise in January. Since then, given the cloud of uncertainty created by the news, some residents have been relocated, filling what few beds were available two months ago.
“There was an opening in Machias, which is gone now,” Claridge said. “When I told my dad, he said ‘No, she’s not moving.’”
John Wood, the facility’s administrator, said Wednesday that the number of residents has been slowly diminishing for weeks and is now down to 27. With fewer residents to care for, the owner of the facility, Portland-based First Atlantic Healthcare, began reducing staff last week.
Wood said Wednesday that 15 of the facility’s 92-person, full- and part-time work force have lost their jobs, and hours have been reduced for many of those who remain on staff.
Fifty of those 92 workers were nursing staff who were members of Teamsters Local 340. Of the 15 workers let go, 12 were members of the bargaining unit, according to Traci Place, a business agent for the union. Those affected, she said, are now working with the Maine Department of Labor’s Career Center in Calais in their search for new jobs.
“You hate seeing this situation, and the nursing home hates seeing this situation,” Place said Wednesday. “A dwindling resident population has a direct correlation with a dwindling work force. My heart breaks for these people, as there aren’t a lot of jobs in Washington County. This is serious business.”
Place said she’s hopeful that Mayhew’s decision to revisit the proposed closure will keep the facility open. “We’ll see what happens,” she said. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”
Claridge said she hasn’t discussed the facility’s uncertain status quo with her mother for fear of upsetting her.
“It’s a scary situation,” she said. “I know she hears about it from other residents and staff. I heard her ask one of the girls if she would still have a job.”