As a longtime advocate for seniors in Maine, I’m frustrated and disappointed to see Gov. Paul LePage use nursing home funding as his latest political club to beat up lawmakers. Maine seniors deserve better.
Maine nursing homes are in crisis and have been for years, partially because of funding shortages. No matter which political party you belong to, we can all agree Maine seniors deserve to age in their community with dignity. No one should be left homeless and hungry.
We must do everything we can to help our seniors. But the governor’s bullying and divisive approach to addressing this problem is all wrong — and worse, it ignores the facts.
While the governor was on vacation in Jamaica earlier this year, Democrats and Republicans came together on an emergency basis to give the nursing homes a total of $38 million in state and federal funding over the next three years. That funding starts flowing July 1.
When the governor refused to issue a budget to address funding shortfalls, lawmakers got the job done. They increased rates for nursing homes for the first time since 2009. They also passed a separate bipartisan bill to increase reimbursement on a yearly basis.
What did the governor do? He vetoed the budget and refused to even sign the bill that addressed the short-term emergency. Fortunately for Maine’s elderly, Maine’s lawmakers saved the day by overriding his veto.
Ask any advocate for nursing homes, and they will tell you these are important steps forward for Maine nursing homes and our elderly neighbors. They may not solve all the problems, and a few facilities may continue to struggle, but they are welcome changes.
LePage’s failure to cooperate with the Legislature’s efforts didn’t stop him from trying to score political points. On veto day, he put forward an 11th hour proposal to raid funds for smoking cessation and cancer prevention to give to struggling nursing homes. He told lawmakers, “Take it or leave it.” Any amended version of his bill would meet the infamous veto pen.
This obstruction and my-way-or-the-highway politics doesn’t solve the problem. It’s the kind of divisive political maneuver we see in Washington, D.C. It’s the failure of leadership that made Mainers lose trust in state government.
It also stands in sharp contrast with three years of harm he has inflicted on Maine’s seniors. He must think they have very short memories.
Sen. Colleen Lachowicz, D-Waterville, got it right in her May 9 radio address when she said, “In 2011, Gov. LePage tried to cut $60 million in funding to assisted living facilities — sixty million dollars to pay for his tax cuts to the wealthiest Mainers. This would have booted 4,000 seniors from their homes.
“Last year, LePage proposed cutting the Drugs for the Elderly program that helps seniors pay for their lifesaving medication. If he got his way, 35,000 seniors would have lost access to their prescriptions.
“Gov. LePage has also proposed cuts to programs that make it easier for our elders to stay in their homes — and out of institutions — like Meals on Wheels and respite services for people with Alzheimer’s.
“And none of us can forget continuing nightmare of the failed MaineCare transportation system that has literally left our elderly neighbors standing on the side of the road.”
I am pleased to see LePage’s new-found interest in protecting our seniors. It’s the right thing to do. But the Maine Alliance for Retired Americans will not sit idly by while he uses them as election year political fodder. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if he worked with lawmakers to find a resolution, if one exists?
Now that would be something.
Jennifer Kenny is a senior field organizer with the Maine Alliance for Retired Americans.