August 28, 2013

Maine to help find beds for 34 discharged from care unit

Slots for MaineCare recipients will be hard to find as St. Joseph's closes its assisted-living space to make upgrades.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – A state ombudsman is stepping in to protect the interests of 34 residents at St. Joseph's Rehabilitation & Residence who are being discharged from the assisted-living unit to make way for a major renovation project.

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St. Joseph's is owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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The Maine Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is especially concerned about MaineCare recipients who may have a tough time finding beds at other assisted-living facilities, most of which have long waiting lists.

St. Joseph's is owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which didn't respond to questions about the impact of the unit's closure on MaineCare recipients and concerns that the facility may not accept MaineCare recipients after the renovations.

A regional ombudsman will visit St. Joseph's on Wednesday, a little more than a week after it announced that it will close its assisted-living unit before renovating the 40-year-old building at 1133 Washington Ave.

St. Joseph's notified residents and family members on Aug. 19 and 20 by letter and telephone that they have until Oct. 1 to find other accommodations, and that St. Joseph's staff will help with the search.

"We want to ensure that each resident has a safe and appropriate discharge plan because we know it's difficult for everyone involved," said Brenda Gallant, executive director of the ombudsman program.

She said the program typically gets involved whenever a facility's closure affects a large number of residents.

Gallant said she's concerned because there are long waiting lists at most assisted-living facilities that accept MaineCare, the state's form of Medicaid, which covers about 80 percent of assisted-living residents in the state.

Gallant said she's aware of rumors that St. Joseph's plans to reopen the renovated assisted-living unit as a private-pay facility that will not accept MaineCare.

"I'm not aware that that's what's happening," she said Tuesday. "I asked (St. Joseph's administrator) if that was the plan and she said she wasn't aware of that."

Long-term care facilities that require private payment can charge much higher fees.

MaineCare reimburses assisted-living facilities at a monthly rate of about $2,500 per resident, which is combined with Social Security benefits to help cover costs. Private-pay facilities charge monthly rates ranging from $3,750 to $6,500 per resident, according to professionals in the field.

Gallant said there's no law to prevent St. Joseph's from giving up its MaineCare certification and becoming a private-pay facility, but she hopes it will resume accepting MaineCare recipients in the future.

"There is a great need for this level of care across the state," Gallant said, noting that 19 of the 20 MaineCare-funded assisted-living facilities she surveyed in the spring had waiting lists.

Across the state, there's a 92 percent occupancy rate for the 4,232 beds in assisted-living facilities that accept MaineCare, according to the Maine Health Care Association.

There are at least 880 beds in MaineCare-certified assisted-living facilities in Cumberland County, Gallant said. She was unable to say without further research exactly how many are occupied by, or available to, MaineCare recipients.

Gail Winchell, St. Joseph's administrator, could not say definitively whether the renovated assisted-living unit will accept MaineCare recipients when it reopens in 2014.

"I see absolutely no reason why we wouldn't," Winchell said. "I can't say for certain."

Winchell said it's unclear how the unit will be renovated, how rooms will be reconfigured and how many residents will be served, so St. Joseph's isn't making promises to anyone.

The unit now has 22 rooms, with two beds in each room. Two rooms share one bathroom.

"The unit is 40 years old and it needs a facelift," Winchell said, noting that the facility's board of directors approved the decision to close and renovate the unit.

(Continued on page 2)

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