PENOBSCOT, Maine — A local nursing home will lose its Medicaid and Medicare certifications at the end of the month, forcing residents to find new places to live.
Federal officials sent a letter dated June 11 to Penobscot Nursing Home indicating that the facility’s health insurance benefits agreement and certification in the federal healthcare programs were being terminated as of June 30. The reason for the termination, according to the the letter, is the nursing home’s “failure to achieve and maintain substantial compliance” in remedying several deficiencies that Maine Department of Health and Human Services officials discovered at the facility over a series of inspections that began in January.
In the letter, J. William Roberson, associate regional administrator for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, informed Penobscot Nursing Home Administrator Janice McManus-Rackliff that within a week of receiving the letter, the nursing home has to notify all Medicare and Medicaid residents of the termination and must develop a closure plan.
Roberson said in the letter that the termination action by the federal agency could be stopped if an acceptable plan of correction was submitted to state officials by June 16. He also said that the Penobscot Nursing Home has been fined $19,000 in civil penalties for the infractions and, in addition, has to pay a daily fine of $2,350 for every day since May 23 that the infractions have not been addressed. The $2,350 daily fine will accrue until either the deficiencies are fixed or the June 30 termination date arrives.
Among the more serious concerns cited in five reports obtained this week by the Bangor Daily News are an alleged sexual assault of a nursing home patient by an aide on March 26 and the death of another patient after a fall at the nursing home on April 29.
Substandard physical conditions at the nursing home that are cited in the reports include stained ceiling tiles, peeling or torn wallpaper, worn furniture and residential sinks with hot water temperatures above 120 degrees.
The reports also list substandard practices and conditions in the kitchen and laundry room, inadequate record keeping, and insufficient physician visits.
Patient medications at times were inadequately safeguarded, kept beyond their expiration dates, or not administered, according to the reports.
McManus-Rackliff did not respond directly to a message left at her office requesting comment but did issue a statement Thursday afternoon. She wrote in the statement that officials at the facility have been working diligently to address the deficiencies.
“We are deeply affected and saddened by this decision by the state and we apologize, in advance, for the stress, disruption, and inconvenience this is causing residents, families, and our community,” McManus-Rackliff wrote.
John Martins, spokesman for Maine DHHS, said Thursday that there currently are 31 patients living at the Penobscot Nursing Home, which is licensed for up to 54.
The 40 residents of Northern Bay Residential Living Center, an assisted-living facility located in the same building, are not affected by the termination order and will be able to stay, he said.
In a prepared statement, Martins said state officials “are poised and prepared to aid patients, their families and the [nursing home] in the event of closure. Ongoing monitoring for safe patient care, communication with medical providers and other facility vendors, and aiding the administration at the [nursing home] for a safe and orderly transition are among the most important responsibilities for the department at this time.”
Paul Bowen, chairman of the Penobscot Board of Selectmen, blamed the state for the lingering issues that have led to the revocation of the federal certifications. The nursing home and six others in Maine owned by Connecticut-based Eagle Landing Residential Care Maine LLC have been in receivership since 2008.
The towns of Penobscot and Blue Hill have been given a formal say in the receivership of Penobscot Nursing Home because of the geographic isolation of the nursing home from other certified Medicare and Medicaid facilities.
Bowen said Thursday that Maine has a limit on the number of beds for Medicare and Medicaid patients at nursing homes, and for a couple of years, Maine DHHS has been interested in reassigning “bed rights” for those licensed at Penobscot Nursing Home to other facilities. In 2012, the state filed an unsuccessful court petition to close the nursing home down.
“We are dismayed this has occurred under state receivership,” Bowen said Thursday. “The deficiencies that have occurred have been under the state’s watch. It’s outrageous.”
Among the documents obtained by the BDN, one 25-page report dated May 5 deals exclusively with several infractions stemming from an April 29 incident in which a patient died after falling and being taken to a hospital emergency room.
A separate 12-page report dated April 11 deals exclusively with an alleged sexual assault by an aide on a Penobscot Nursing Home resident on March 26 of this year.
The report does not identify anyone by name or gender, but the alleged assault appears to be the same incident that led to criminal charges being filed against Sara Comtois, a former aide at the facility who no longer works there.
Comtois is facing two counts of gross sexual assault and one count of intentionally endangering the welfare of a dependent person, according to documents filed in Hancock County Unified Criminal Court in Ellsworth.