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Lawmakers Seek Financial Relief for Maine Nursing Homes
11/15/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Maine falls in the lower third of all states when it comes to paying its share of the actual costs of long-term care. Meanwhile, Maine nursing homes continue to struggle to keep their doors open. A legislative commission charged with reviewing reimbursement, and other issues important to the state's 107 nursing homes, is developing final recommendations that could provide some financial relief. A.J. Higgins has more.

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The big issue for nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Maine is underfunding from the state.

"For many years now, MaineCare reimbursement has failed to meet their actual cost of doing business," says Rick Erb, the CEO of the Maine Health Care Association, a group representing Maine's nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Erb says in order to stay afloat, operators are finding ways to offset the loss they experience on MaineCare patients.

"The average MaineCare resident is a losing proposition by about $20 a day in the nursing homes, and that gets made up by private pay rates, and to some extent by Medicare skilled rehab," he says. "But the largest number of residents in the facilities are MaineCare - and that's a problem."

Erb is a member of the Commission to Study Long-Term Care Facilities, which spent most of Friday taking a series of votes on more than a dozen proposed changes that lawmakers could consider next year in an effort to address funding problems, including inflation and actual costs associated with taking care of patients dealing with acute issues, such as dementia.

The panel also is weighing a bonus payment for facilities with a high percentage of MaineCare patients. And although the commission is hoping to craft a plan that can help all nursing homes, there's one facility Downeast that's in need of more immediate action.

"I just hope that part of our recommendations can be a remedy for Lubec," says Brenda Gallant, Maine's Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

Gallant is referring to the 39-bed Oceanview Nursing Home in Lubec, wich is struggling to operate with a high number of MaineCare patients. Another facility in the area, the 52-bed Atlantic Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Calais, was already forced to close.

Calais City Manager Diane Barnes, a member of the commission, says the region can't afford to lose any more nursing home beds.

"If we don't do something for Lubec, we're going to lose another 39, and those beds aren't going to come back," Barnes said. "They're going to go and there's not going to be any access in Washington County," Barnes said. "So I think we need to keep that in mind as we make our decisions today, because we're right on the verge of losing 39 more beds - and the jobs that go along with those, too."

But for the industry as a whole, the problems won't be sorted out by the end of the next legislative session in April, says Whiting Republican David Burns.

"It's such a big problem, big issue, that you can't solve these problems or come up with meaningful solutions in four meetings," Burns says. "So I think what's going to come out of here is a recommendation for a longer-term study."

Burns says he hopes the Legislature may be able to tap into some of new revenue from the renegotiation of the state liquor contract, or redirecting the return of some of the overpayments made to facilities due to computer errors as possible means of sending additional money to struggling nursing homes.



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