Pittsfield nursing home to close, citing financial pressures

Posted July 10, 2014, at 5:27 p.m.
Last modified July 11, 2014, at 3:57 p.m.

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PITTSFIELD, Maine — After nearly three decades, a Pittsfield nursing home plans to close its doors in early September, citing financial pressures faced by many other rural nursing facilities throughout the state.

The family-owned Pittsfield Rehab & Nursing announced Thursday it will cease operations effective Sept. 5. The 57-bed home is working with residents and their families to find new placements, owner Mary Ford said.

“We are finding beds fairly quickly for most of our residents,” Ford said.

The facility was founded by Ford’s father in 1978, and she has owned it for the past 10 years.

Nearly 90 percent of the residents are covered by MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, she said.

MaineCare has been reimbursing nursing homes based on their costs from 2005, leaving many facilities underfunded for the last several years. This has led to $30 million in accumulated underpayments statewide. MaineCare covers nearly every resident at several homes, particularly in poor and rural areas, stretching bottom lines to the point of breaking.

“We’re a small, rural nursing home, and we have a high percentage of MaineCare residents,” Ford said. “Like other nursing homes in the state, Medicaid underfunds us by about $15 a day [per resident].”

Just two weeks ago, Oceanview Nursing Home & Residential Care in Lubec announced it will close near the end of August because it can no longer maintain a sufficient number of residents.

Recently passed legislation aims to address the $30 million in MaineCare underpayments. The bill promised to give Maine nursing homes $4 million in additional state Medicaid funds in the fiscal year that began July 1. Another $5 million is due to follow in the subsequent two years. The federal government would kick in its matching share to the tune of more than $24 million over the next three years.

The new legislation also requires the state to reset reimbursement rates every two years to levels that better reflect nursing homes’ actual costs. Nursing homes where more than 70 percent of residents are covered by MaineCare would receive modest supplemental payments on a sliding scale.

While the initial $4 million in funding for the bill has been approved, nursing homes are waiting for the disbursements while the state finishes rulemaking, according to Rick Erb, president and CEO of the Maine Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes. He said he hoped that process would wind up this month, with funds paid out retroactively to July 1.

One method several nursing homes use to stay afloat is by shifting costs to residents who have private insurance, which reimburses more generously, but those residents are few and far between in the Pittsfield area, Ford said.

Another way several facilities address the financial gap is by relying on payments from Medicare, which covers several skilled rehabilitation services that must be delivered by a doctor or registered nurse. Pittsfield Rehab & Nursing stopped offering skilled nursing care in October in an attempt to save money on staff costs, she said.

As an independent nursing home, Pittsfield Rehab & Nursing loses out on many potential residents, Ford said. Large hospital systems tend to refer patients to affiliated facilities, she said.

Ford said she’s proud of the high-quality care the facility has delivered. Pittsfield Rehab & Nursing rates above average on health, staffing and quality measures tracked by the federal government’s Nursing Home Compare website.

Ford hopes to keep as many of the facility’s 66 employees on staff as possible until the closure, she said. The shutdown marks the first time Pittsfield Rehab & Nursing has laid off workers since its founding, she said.

“We’ve been through some really lean times and made it,” Ford said.

The nursing home is coordinating with officials at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to implement its approved closure plan, along with the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman to relocate residents to other facilities. So far, residents have been transferred to Scarborough, Augusta, Camden and Waterville, Ford said. For some, The distance won’t prove an obstacle for visiting family members, she said.

 

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this report quoted Mary Ford as saying state legislation to add funding for nursing homes had not been funded. The initial funding has been approved and will be allocated after the state completes its rule-making process.

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