November 19, 2012

Togetherness can elude seniors

The closing of an assisted-living center in Scarborough separates one couple after 52 years of marriage.

By Gillian Graham
Staff Writer

SCARBOROUGH - Doris Seekamp never imagined she and her husband of 52 years would spend their later years living apart.

click image to enlarge

Doris Seekamp receives care at the Pine Point Center in Scarborough. Her husband was moved from the facility when it closed its assisted-living unit; he now lives at a center in Portland.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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The Seekamps on their wedding day in 1960.

Courtesy photo

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.

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