AUGUSTA — Maine’s long-term care facilities are struggling to make ends meet.

Every week, families across Maine are confronted with the difficult decisions of what to do when a loved one is ailing and can no longer safely be cared for at home.

It is difficult to accept, that despite everything they have done to keep their husband or wife or mom or dad at home, it just isn’t working.

The care is overwhelming, and the stress takes its toll on their own health.

It is then that families realize that a nursing home or assisted living/residential care facility in their community can provide compassionate, quality health care to their loved one.

At some point during the transitional period, most family members report that their perceptions of nursing homes and assisted living facilities were not accurate.

These facilities are not dreary places where people go to die. They are vital communities where people go to live.

In addition to meeting the complex medical needs of residents, long-term care facilities are committed to providing highly individualized care and social opportunities that had been lacking for many elders at home.

Families see positive gains in their loved ones’ health status and find peace of mind.

As president of the Maine Health Care Association, representing 200 long-term care facilities, I worry about the future of these providers and whether Maine families will continue to have access to this level of care when they need it.

Years of chronic MaineCare (Medicaid) underfunding by the state has left many long-term care facilities struggling to make ends meet.

Because Maine’s long-term care facilities serve a much higher percentage of Medicaid recipients compared to other health care sectors, the impact of this underfunding should not be understated.

Keep in mind that two out of three nursing home residents are supported by MaineCare, and for each one of them, the home loses an average of $18.27 a day, translating to $29 million annually statewide.

Nearly 80 percent of our assisted living/residential care customers are dependent on MaineCare, and conservative estimates indicate MaineCare losses of more than $10 million per year to these providers.

The state cannot expect facilities to operate with these kinds of losses and keep their doors open or continue meeting quality standards of care. Something has to change.

This gap between the cost of care and the reimbursement for that care has been growing wider every year, to the point where many long-term care facilities are barely making ends meet. The average MaineCare increase to our state’s nursing homes over the past five fiscal years was 1.5 percent.

Equally disturbing, the annual MaineCare increase to our state’s assisted living/residential care facilities over the past five fiscal years was less than 1 percent. During these tough economic times, there is no doubt that the stimulus packages from Washington were keys to avoiding drastic MaineCare cuts.

But relying on the federal government to bail out the states is not a sustainable strategy going forward.

The time is now for Maine policymakers to consider long-term care fiscal policies that will encourage personal responsibility, maximize public and private resources and shore up our fraying health care safety net (MaineCare) for our elderly and disabled citizens who truly need it.

No one likes to think about the day when someone they love becomes too frail or too sick to safely live at home.

But ask the families of Maine’s long-term care residents, and they will tell you how important it was to find a nursing home or assisted living facility in their community that cared about their loved one as much as they do.

It is the state’s responsibility to ensure these choices remain available for Maine families.

As we determine health care priorities in the coming year, let us not forget that the impact of fiscal uncertainty is felt most by the people who live in our state’s long-term care facilities.

Let’s develop a better plan to support those who have spent the best years of their lives building our communities, state and country.

 

– Special to The Press Herald