SCARBOROUGH – Doris Seekamp never imagined she and her husband of 52 years would spend their later years living apart.
She hasn’t laid eyes on her husband, Henry, in the month since he moved out of the Pine Point Center in Scarborough and into Portland Center for Assisted Living. They talk on the phone nearly every day, but it’s not the same as sharing meals, playing cards and awaiting together the arrival of their first grandchild.
After the Pine Point Center announced in September it would close its assisted-living unit to make more room for a short-stay program, nine residents had to move to other facilities. Henry Seekamp was able to find a home in Portland, but his wife, who had been staying in a special-care unit following surgery, wasn’t quite ready to move back into assisted living and stayed behind in Scarborough.
Now, for the first time since their wedding in 1960, the Seekamps are living without each other.
She said there is no room for her at the home where her husband currently lives. They are both on a waiting list for Seventy-Five State Street, an assisted-living home in Portland, but it has a waiting list of more than a year and a half for MaineCare patients.
Doris Seekamp doesn’t know how long they will be apart.
“What happened to Hank and I should not have happened. Never,” Doris Seekamp said last week while sitting in her room at the Pine Point Center, a stack of family photos in hand.
In April, the Pine Point Center, a Genesis HealthCare facility, submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services a letter of intent to eliminate 12 residential care beds to make more room in the 18-bed short-stay program to better meet the needs of patients, according to a statement from the company. Six months later, on Oct. 30, the state was notified that all residents were “successfully transferred,” according to DHHS spokesman John Martins.
Assisted-living residents at Pine Point Center were given 37 days’ notice that they would need to move, more than the 15-day notice required by the state. Leslie Currier, the center’s administrator, and social workers worked with each family to find new homes for residents.
“We knew this would be a challenging and emotional time for the affected families,” said a statement sent last week by Genesis HealthCare to the Portland Press Herald. “We worked with each family personally to make the transition as smooth as possible.”
These types of transfers of residents are uncommon in Maine, where the number of assisted housing licensed beds has increased in recent years. The number of assisted housing beds — which can be at residential care facilities, private non-medical institutions like Pine Point Center or assisted-living homes – increased from 8,558 in 2009 to 9,429 in 2011, according to annual state reports.
Rick Erb, president of the Maine Health Care Association, said in the past five years he has seen more nursing home beds being dedicated to patients who need short-term rehabilitation — a transition that can be attributed in part to the cost of assisted living. He said 10 percent to 12 percent of nursing home beds are now being used for people in short-term rehab, a less expensive option than staying in the hospital for treatment.
Some facilities may move away from assisted living to focus on short-term rehab because that is one way to make up for financial losses from low reimbursement rates for MaineCare patients in assisted living, Erb said. At Seventy-Five State Street, for example, the actual cost to care for an assisted-living resident is $30 per day more than the state reimburses under MaineCare.
With 80 percent of the state’s assisted-living residents using MaineCare, it is not uncommon for homes to have long waiting lists like the one at Seventy-Five State Street. It is hard to estimate how many people with MaineCare are on waiting lists because many are on lists for multiple homes, Erb said.
Doris Seekamp finds little consolation in being on one of those long waiting lists. She said the stress of finding a new home for her husband and adjusting to living apart was so great she was hospitalized. Her husband, who has short-term memory problems, is “very upset” about the move, especially because he relies on his wife for help with tasks like returning phone messages, she said.
Henry Seekamp did not want to comment for this story. The couple has an adult son who lives in the area who is helping them, but he declined to be interviewed for this story.
The type of stress the Seekamps experienced is not unexpected, according to an expert on geriatrics research.
Dr. Marilyn Gugliucci, director of geriatrics education and research at the University of New England and a board member of the Maine Council on Aging, said moving to a new home is stressful for anyone, but can be especially stressful for people who rely on help from staff members at assisted-living homes.
Health care professionals expect 10 percent of nursing home patients who are moved to die from related stress, but that number is likely less for people who live in assisted-living homes, she said.
While little research has been done on the closure of facilities or the movement of older adults, a move – coupled with separation from spouses or trusted caregivers – is undoubtedly difficult for everyone involved, Gugliucci said.
“Each of these people go through that experience differently, will grieve differently and will adjust and adapt differently,” she said. “That group would do better if they were moved together.”
Staff members of assisted-living homes are also likely to feel the effects of closing a unit and moving residents, Gugliucci said.
“The truth of the matter is the staff and administration usually get very connected emotionally to their residents. I’m sure this is not an easy move for them,” she said.
Despite the stress of being separated from her husband, Doris Seekamp is hopeful they will be able to have Thanksgiving dinner together. In the meantime, she is packing her belongings for a move she hopes comes sooner rather than later.
“We have a good life,” she said. “Is this the golden years — that after being married so long, you’re separated?”
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: