About 365 "Home Care for Maine" employees, who give in-home care to almost 600 older adults in every county, will lose their jobs. Credit: Courtesy of CBS 13

The announcement this week that a Maine home care agency is closing due to financial challenges means that nearly 600 seniors will have to find services elsewhere. But advocates say Maine lacks the capacity to absorb these clients, and that the situation underscores a crisis that has been building for years.

News that Farmingdale-based Home Care for Maine will close by the end of April and leave 580 clients across the state in need of services hit Laurie Belden hard. She’s the executive director of the Home Care and Hospice Alliance of Maine.

“I’m just heartbroken,” Belden says. “This is just a terrible sign of the times. 90 percent of people want to age in place, in their home, and have care in their home. And home care just feels it has not been taken seriously in the continuum of care with regard to needing the resources to survive and thrive and take the best care of the patients.”

Home Care for Maine, which has operated for 25 years, announced its closure Thursday in a press release. The nonprofit cited unsustainable financial losses due to federal reporting requirements, minimum wage increases and low MaineCare reimbursements rates.

Jess Maurer, the executive director of the Maine Council on Aging, says that even though rates have nudged up in recent years, they haven’t kept pace with the increase in minimum wage or the workforce shortage. That’s a finding in a recent report from the Commission to Study Long-term Care Workforce Issues, which concluded that workers need to be paid at least 125 percent of the minimum wage.

“To keep up just with minimum age, literally I just did the math, it would be another 10 percent increase,” Maurer says.

The Commission will present its report to the legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday, and lawmakers could then decide to submit legislation to boost rates. In the meantime, Maurer is worried about the fate of Home Care for Maine’s clients, who will have to find other providers.

“I don’t think that the 600 people who are currently receiving care from Home Care of Maine will all be able to be picked up by other providers,” Maurer says.

A spokesperson for Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services says that the Department is ready to assist with the transition of clients to other agencies as needed. The Department is also undertaking a nearly year-long evaluation to create a more consistent rate-setting system.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.