June 20, 2018
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Talks over Calais nursing home’s fate to be continued

By Tom Walsh, BDN Staff

CALAIS, Maine — A meeting Thursday morning in Bangor involving three representatives of Teamsters Local 340 and Craig Coffin, the chief operating officer of the firm that owns the Atlantic Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Calais, will be reconvened later this month.

Under discussion is the fate of the 52-bed nursing home, which is owned by Portland-based First Atlantic Healthcare. The company has indicated in correspondence with the state’s Department of Human Services that it plans to close the 39-year-old facility as it expands an existing facility in Ellsworth and plans a new nursing home for Bucksport.

First Atlantic Healthcare stated in a press release last week that closure is not “imminent.” Nonetheless, the Calais facility has stopped accepting applications from potential new residents and their families.

John Wood, the Calais facility’s administrator, said Thursday afternoon that he had not been briefed on Thursday morning’s meeting by any of those who attended. Another Atlantic Rehab employee, who asked not be identified, said she spoke by phone after the meeting with Paula Franklin, who attended as a shop steward for the nursing home’s bargaining unit. “She said she doesn’t know any more today than she did before the meeting, only that they’ll meet again in two weeks.”

If the Calais nursing home is closed, the three dozen residents living there now would be forced to relocate, and 92 workers, including 50 nursing care staff who are members of Teamsters Local 340, would lose their jobs.

As she is almost every day, Sue Claridge of Calais was at Atlantic Rehab on Thursday morning visiting her 82-year-old mother, Marice Chassee, who has lived there for two years. Claridge is among those upset by the prospect of closure, as she sees few options for relocating her mother locally.

“Nothing is available around here,” she said. “There are openings in Portland and in New Hampshire, but that’s hundreds of miles away. My father, Philip, is 89 and lives just down the street from Atlantic Rehab, and he’s here with my mother twice a day. They’ve been married 65 years, and he’s not going to be able to travel hundreds of miles to be with her. They can’t take my mother away from my father. It’s not right.”

Like many others affected by the spectre of closure, Claridge said she and her mother are “very upset” by the prospect. “None of these people here want to move,” she said. “There’s a woman here who is 103 years old. What’s to become of her? And there’s a lot of dementia here. If you put these people in a strange place away from family and friends, I don’t know how long they’ll last. What will my mother do with no friends or relatives around? And what will my dad do without my mother?”

In a letter sent to the state last March, First Atlantic Healthcare CEO Kenneth Bowden said, “We believe there is capacity within the Calais region to accommodate these patients as our [nursing facility] operations in Calais phase out.” Bowden also said that residents now living in the Calais facility, if they desired, could be relocated to the Ellsworth facility, which is 92 miles away.

Bowden’s letter said expansion of the Ellsworth facility would require 16 months of construction. In November, state officials recommended approval of Atlantic Healthcare’s certificate of need proposal, showing a construction cost estimate for the Ellsworth project of $9.2 million. Construction on the project in Ellsworth has not yet started.

“This is a community that sticks together,” Claridge said of Calais. “Had we known a year in advance of their plans to close, maybe something could have worked out. This was underhandedly done; they didn’t give us a chance to respond.”

Multiple calls to Bowden and to Coffin were not returned Thursday afternoon. A request for comment from Local 340 Business Agent Traci Place, who attended Thursday’s meeting, also was unsuccessful.

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