A program that provides personal care, meals and other services to about 215 low-income elderly Mainers in seven assisted living facilities around the state will be discontinued July 1.

Residents of Freese’s Assisted Living in Bangor, Stearns Assisted Living in Millinocket and Merry Gardens Estates in Camden will be affected, along with individuals living at similar sites in Sanford, Augusta, Saco and Portland.

A state official said Wednesday that the state will continue to provide some of the most essential services now funded through the Medicaid program and that residents of the rent-subsidized facilities should not panic. But at least one elder services agency is concerned that residents may lose access to the critical support that keeps them living safely in their rent-subsidized, noninstitutional apartments.

“All the individuals who come to live with us are in need of assistance. The services that we wrap around them are what keeps them safe in the community,” Deborah Poulton of the Eastern Area Agency on Aging in Bangor said Tuesday. The agency provides 24-hour staffing and support services, including meals, medication administration, light housekeeping and assistance with bathing and dressing, to about 70 individuals at the assisted living sites in Bangor, Millinocket and Camden. It employs about 45 direct-care workers at the three sites.

All the sites provide personal and support services as well as affordable rents based on income.

At the Office of Elder Services within the state Department of Health and Human Services, director Diana Scully said Wednesday that Maine’s subsidized assisted living program, which has been in place since the early 2000s, has never won the official approval of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS. Nonetheless, she said, CMS has continued to provide matching funds over the years to pay for the program — millions of dollars that may have to be repaid now that it’s clear the state program will be rejected.

Many residents of the assisted living facilities will qualify to receive the most essential services under a different program in MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, or through dedicated General Fund dollars included in Gov. John Baldacci’s proposed budget for the coming biennium, Scully said. But 24-hour staffing, meals and other support services may no longer be feasible, and seniors waiting for an apartment to become available will not have access to the same range of services now provided.

Notice of the agency rule change was published on Wednesday in a number of daily papers in Maine, including the Bangor Daily News. The notice contained an error regarding the date of a public hearing on the matter. The hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 5, at the DHHS offices located at 442 Civic Center Drive in Augusta. Testimony may also be submitted in writing or by e-mail, with a deadline of May 15.

Information is available by contacting Bethany Hamm at DHHS at 287-5093 or Bethany.Hamm@Maine.gov.


Meg Haskell

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at mhaskell@bangordailynews.com.