CALAIS, Maine — Members of Washington County’s legislative delegation, Calais city officials and three representatives of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services were among 15 people who met Tuesday for nearly two hours behind closed doors to discuss how to best respond to the recent closure of Calais’ only licensed nursing home.
The meeting held at Washington County Community College follows Portland-based First Atlantic Healthcare’s closure last month of its 52-bed Atlantic Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Calais. That decision displaced dozens of residents and cost 92 health care workers their jobs.
“What I saw today was a lot of people committed to exploring every option in terms of where we go from here,”said Maine State Senate President Kevin Raye, a Washington County resident, after coming out of the session. “It’s an extremely complex situation, but it’s worth the effort because it’s really important to this community.”
Also participating were state Reps. Joyce Maker and David Burns, both Republicans from Washington County. Also included in the discussion were Calais Mayor Joe Cassidy and City Manager Diane Barnes.
“I knew this process would be complex, and now I realize how complex,” Cassidy said after the meeting. “I think the city will take a look at doing a feasibility study, and I’ll have to work with the city council in determining how we would cover those costs.”
DHHS sent three representatives to the meeting, including Kenneth Albert, director of the department’s Division of Licensing & Regulatory Services. Also attending the meeting by phone were rural development specialists from the the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who discussed low-interest loan programs.
“I was impressed by the level of commitment from local officials to ensure that there is a nursing facility presence in this community,” Albert said. “I think we were able to provide them with a good appreciation of the complexities of running a nursing facility.”
Albert said DHHS will continue to offer technical assistance to the effort of exploring next steps, as requested.
“This process is about narrowing down the opportunities for the community, which is always a good thing,” he said.
The closure of Atlantic Rehab caught the Calais community by surprise. First Atlantic’s certificate of need application for a new nursing home in Ellsworth — located 90 miles southwest of Calais — included mention of its plans to mothball its 39-year-old facility in Calais. That application was approved by DHHS regulators last fall, but didn’t become common knowledge in Calais until late January 2012. That news left Atlantic Rehab residents and their families perplexed by the uncertainty of the timing of the closure and the reality of a chronic scarcity of nursing home vacancies throughout Washington County.
The city of Calais appealed the certificate of need approval, but that appeal was unsuccessful. The last of dozens of Atlantic Rehab residents who had to relocate left the facility on June 29, a week before a July 6 deadline.
First Atlantic CEO Kenneth Bowden said in April that the decision to close Atlantic Rehab was financial, with expenses far exceeding revenues. At some point, he also suggested that the property be acquired by the city or some other nonprofit entity because that would allow for higher levels of state reimbursement for resident care.
Cassidy said Tuesday that he sees the next step as exploring partnerships in the effort to bring licensed skilled nursing home care back to Calais.
“I think making this happen will require a partnership, and I think the most likely partner would be Calais Regional Hospital,” Cassidy said. “But we’ve not yet had that discussion.”