Calais nursing home closure debate continues April 5

Posted April 02, 2012, at 2:48 p.m.

CALAIS, Maine — A public hearing by Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services to reconsider authorizing closure of the 50-bed Atlantic Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Calais will be held on Thursday, April 5, at Washington County Community College.

The hearing begins at 10 a.m. in the college’s assembly room and is scheduled to end at 4 p.m.

Last fall, DHHS authorized the 39-year-old facility’s owner, Portland-based First Atlantic Healthcare, to close the nursing home and to build a new facility in the Hancock County community of Ellsworth, which is a distance of 90 miles. That decision didn’t surface in Calais until early this year, triggering concerns by residents and their families, as well as the Center’s 92-person staff.

Given the uncertainty of the situation, nursing home residents have been fleeing Calais, although many are finding that alternative placements are scarce. As of Monday, the headcount was down to 23 residents. That exodus has forced Teamsters Local 340, which represents 50 nurses and 42 other support staff at Atlantic Rehab, to develop strategies for downsizing the facility’s work force. Fifteen staffers already have lost their jobs and hours have been reduced for others.

DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew agreed last month to reconsider the decision after receiving a letter of appeal from Calais Mayor Joseph Cassidy. In that letter Cassidy notes that there are very few empty nursing home beds in Washington County.

Among the options under consideration is the City of Calais buying the facility from First Atlantic. That approach was suggested by First Atlantic CEO Kenneth Bowden, who said in February that his firm was losing $81,000 a month in keeping the nursing home open, a fiscal reality that he termed “unacceptable.”

Bowden says in his letter that a publicly owned facility would qualify for higher MaineCare reimbursement rates for services provided to residents than are now being paid to First Atlantic as a private-sector owner.

Calais City Manager Diane Barnes said Monday that city officials have not formally discussed Bowden’s proposal. Barnes expects she will be among those testifying at Thursday’s hearing.

Also testifying will be Traci Place, a Teamsters business agent who works with the Atlantic Rehab bargaining unit. She said Monday she plans to stress the impact closure would have on the local work force and the importance of attracting and retaining skilled health care workers to a rural area such as Washington County.

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