SCARBOROUGH, Maine — A Portland-based nonprofit organization plans to build a new health care facility here thanks to a growing federal, low-interest loan program.
The Maine office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development division has awarded Casa Inc. a $6.2 million loan to construct a new, 20-bed, long-term intermediate care facility for the mentally handicapped. An intermediate care facility offers institutional care for those with mental or physical handicaps, but without the degree of medical care a hospital would offer.
Casa’s Intermediate Care Facility for Mental Retardation will replace an existing 16-bed facility, which currently provides 240 jobs. The new facility will add 12 jobs, according to USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.
“Constructing a 20-bed, long-term intermediate care facility is not something we’re involved in every day,” Manuel told the Bangor Daily News. “So I’m very excited about this actually because it really serves a need in Cumberland and York counties.”
Casa was founded in 1979 and built its first eight-bed intermediate care facility in 1982.
The loan is part of the USDA Rural Development’s Community Facilities Direct Loan program, which funds essential community facilities that serve the greater good, according to Manuel. It will be paid back over four years with 3.5 percent interest — an “unbeatable” rate, she said.
The funding available to Maine organizations through the Community Facilities Direct Loan program is growing in size, Manuel said.
Each year, the national office allocates each state a portion of the total funds authorized by Congress. Last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, 2011, Congress provided about $700 million to the federal program, of which Maine received $3.6 million, Manuel said. This fiscal year, which will end on Sept. 30, the federal program received $1.2 billion, of which Maine received $16.9 million, she said.
However, with six weeks left to go before the fiscal year is over, Maine’s USDA Rural Development office has provided $6.9 million in loans to five projects through the Community Facilities Direct Loan program, Manuel said. A few more loans will likely be made before the end of the fiscal year, but it’s likely several million dollars will be left on the table, she said.
“I think the economy is affecting a number of organizations that are being more cautious about taking out more loans, even though our loans are long-term and low-interest,” she said. “It’s a more cautious economic climate and I think we’re seeing that reflected in those numbers.”
Despite the lack of potential loan recipients, “we’ve doubled our investment in Maine in a year,” Manuel said.
The loan to Casa was by far the largest one so far this year, Manuel said.
Manuel has received indications that the program may have more to dole out next year.
“What I’ve heard is it’s possible [the funding] will go up to $2 billion in fiscal year 2013,” she said. “I think it’s because it’s really a program that can improve the quality of life across rural America in a very visible, very needed way. Casa is a specific example of that.”
Before it can begin construction on the new facility, Casa is awaiting final direction from the Department of Health and Human Services, Anne Walp, Casa’s executive director, told the Bangor Daily News in an email Monday.
Where the project is in the Certificate of Need, or CON, process is unclear. In February, Walp sent a letter of intent to file a CON application to DHHS for the new facility. But in a letter dated June 28, she told the DHHS that Casa was suspending its CON request for 60 days to a year, according to public records.
Since it was Casa that chose to suspend the CON process, John Martins, DHHS director of communications, said he is “unclear as to what ‘further direction’ they are looking for from DHHS.”
Walp could not be reached for further comment or to explain why Casa chose to suspend the CON process.