CALAIS, Maine — Nearly 100 health care workers will lose their jobs and 18 elderly residents will be forced to relocate should a decision Friday by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services stand, and the Atlantic Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Calais close.
The DHHS ruling is not final, as the case could be appealed to Superior Court. No one on Friday, however, indicated the decision would be appealed.
DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew reaffirmed Friday that the final elements of the certificate of need her department approved last fall included the closure of the 39-year-old nursing home and construction of a new facility 90 miles away in Ellsworth. The certificate of need application was submitted by nursing home owner First Atlantic Healthcare of Portland. The city of Calais had asked Mayhew in April to review the case to make sure the nursing home’s closure had been approved as part of the certificate of need.
The nursing home’s closure would leave Calais without any licensed skilled-care nursing home beds, and other facilities in Washington County have lengthy waiting lists.
“The undisputed evidence in the record establishes that continued operation of Atlantic Rehabilitation would not be economically feasible,” Mayhew said in her ruling.
First Atlantic CEO Kenneth Bowden said at a public hearing in April the facility was drowning in red ink, estimating that expenses in 2011 exceeded revenues by $272,000. In the first two months of this year, he said, the 59-bed facility was running $131,000 in the red, due in part to a dwindling resident census prompted by fears of closure.
Bowden told the Bangor Daily News on Friday he was “pleased” by Mayhew’s decision, and said the dwindling number of residents in the Calais facility — now down to 18 — does not support the cost of keeping it up and running.
“We haven’t yet put together a plan for closure,” he said. “We’re beginning a discussion here, and we will have a plan to close the facility at some point.”
Bowden has been eager to meet with Calais city officials about possibly assuming ownership of the facility, claiming that reimbursement rates for publicly owned nursing homes are significantly higher than the rates for private-sector facilities.
“I am not unsympathetic to the concerns raised by the city,” Mayhew said in her ruling. “And I urge First Atlantic and the city to work cooperatively in good faith toward an alternative solution that would address the need for nursing facility beds in Calais and northern Washington County.”
Calais City Manager Diane Barnes said Friday the city “will strive for solutions and will explore the feasibility of any options.
“The city of Calais is very disappointed in the commissioner’s decision,” Barnes said Friday. “It did not take into consideration the impact on the families involved. As a result of this decision, this area will be underserved in terms of access to nursing home care.”
Also disappointed is Washington County’s legislative delegation, including Maine Senate President Kevin Raye, a Washington County resident.
“I am profoundly disappointed in the decision,” Raye said Friday. “If Calais is left with a closed facility, it will be a cruel and severe blow to the residents, their families, the hard-working employees and all of northern Washington County.
“There is a strong local determination to prevent this terrible loss, and I hope that First Atlantic will work with the community in a way that will ultimately lead to preserving a nursing home presence in Calais.”
Raye said the closing of the Calais facility will reduce the number of nursing home beds from 222 to 170, which he pointed out is a “ 23 percent decrease at a time when our elderly population is increasing. That is not an acceptable outcome, and I will continue to work with local leaders to explore options in an effort to prevent that from occurring.”
Also expressing concern was Joyce Maker, a state representative from Calais.
“The commissioner’s ruling will mean severe hardship for the remaining residents and their families,” she said. “While I am very disappointed, I will by no means accept the closure as a done deal. We will be meeting with the city of Calais next week to see what short-term solutions we can work out with First Atlantic to try and keep the residents in Calais.”
Mayhew’s ruling on Friday came in the wake of an April 5 public hearing in Calais that attracted more than 100 people. Virtually all spoke in opposition to the state’s certificate of need approval, citing a chronic shortage of skilled-care beds in Washington County.
Barnes said Friday the city “will strive for solutions and will explore the feasibility of any options.”
Traci Place, who represents nurses and other workers at the facility who are members of Teamsters Union Local 340, said the union is “disappointed” with Mayhew’s decision to affirm the certificate of need approval.
“This decision was our worst fears confirmed,” she said. “We were hoping that DHHS would stand up for the elderly in Washington County. It’s also tragic for the workers there. They don’t know how long they will have jobs.”
As the number of the nursing home residents has decreased, some of the facility’s workers already have been let go, while others have been cut back to part time.