Opinion

New nursing home law is good for The County

We know that Maine is the oldest state in the nation. By 2030, it’s estimated that almost a third of Maine’s population will be over 65 years old. With an ever-increasing aging population, more and more folks are relying on the care provided by nursing homes. But Maine is not prepared for it. Even though there is clearly a need for nursing homes, they are struggling to stay afloat because of the rising costs of running such a business.

 

Fortunately, Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, has taken on this issue with a bill that received bipartisan support this past session. LD 1758, “An Act To Clarify and Amend MaineCare Reimbursement Provisions for Nursing and Residential Care Facilities,” will cover the gap between the rate MaineCare pays for patients in nursing homes, with what it actually costs to operate them.

Six nursing homes in Maine closed in 2018, which meant that 250 residents suddenly were without a home and 400 people lost their jobs. This painful outcome was because these nursing homes simply could not keep their doors open. It was too costly. With more families turning to nursing homes and residential facilities to care for their aging loved ones, Democrats and Republicans alike agreed we needed to do something about the increasing costs of running a nursing home, so we can keep more of them open to take care of our aging neighbors and families.

LD 1758 will provide increases in pay for health care workers, to ensure that nursing homes can pay their employees a competitive rate. A large part of the problem with the nursing home crisis in Maine is that nursing homes can’t find, or afford to pay, qualified workers. This funding will help more employers attract and keep the workers they need, which will help nursing homes stay open.

We in rural Maine especially know how hard it can be to access quality, reliable health care. When visiting Northern Light A.R. Gould Hospital in late October, a staff member told me that they had the capacity to hire 50 more nurses if they could only find them. Some folks have to send their parents to nursing homes in Bangor, because there are no adequate nursing homes closer to where they live. The gap between MaineCare reimbursements to nursing homes and what it costs to run them is even larger for rural areas, where fewer folks can afford private insurance.  

As you can see, LD 1758 is desperately needed to shore up our crumbling nursing home industry.

The reimbursement rate increases for MaineCare payments will retroactively start in July 2019, to get a head start on sustaining nursing homes in Maine. Secondly, more nursing homes will be able to hire and retain health care workers, because they are able to provide higher wages. Last but not least, LD 1758 will help ensure that nursing homes in our communities stay in our communities and thrive. We don’t want patients forced to move to new nursing homes after sudden closures and be separated by the friends, family and health care workers they’ve put their trust and faith into. 

My colleagues and I take the rise in Maine’s already aging population seriously. Join us in celebrating LD 1758 becoming law, so that our nursing homes that take care of our loved ones can be sustainable.

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