Sunday, December 8, 2013
BY KELLEY BOUCHARD
Michaud is one of 34 residents of St. Joseph's assisted-living unit who were notified last week that they will be discharged to make way for a major renovation. They have until Oct. 1 to find another place to live, which may be tough given the high demand for assisted-living facilities.
"Every day she wakes up thinking she has to move out today," said Michaud's daughter, Audrey Rolfe, of Portland. "The anxiety this is creating for her is excruciating."
Rolfe is one of several family members of St. Joseph's residents who contacted the Portland Press Herald to express disappointment and anger about the way the facility is handling the discharge of their loved ones.
State officials and others are overseeing the discharge process to ensure that residents find safe and appropriate accommodations, especially for MaineCare recipients who face the challenge of finding a bed when many facilities are underfunded and have long waiting lists.
Family members say they're most upset about the lack of respect being shown for residents and family members, and the lack of clear information they're getting about the discharge process and the futures of their loved ones.
"For us now to be treated this way by a facility we trusted to take care of her is devastating for all of us," Rolfe said.
They're also upset that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which owns St. Joseph's, hasn't intervened or responded publicly to concerns about discharges from the facility at 1133 Washington Ave.
Louis Philippe, another family member of St. Joseph's residents, said he called the chancery in Portland "to let them know just how un-Catholic-like they are treating elderly residents."
The diocese hasn't responded to repeated request for comment from the Press Herald.
The situation at St. Joseph's is emblematic of the struggle that long-term care facilities, their residents and their families are facing across Maine, said Rick Erb, spokesman for the Maine Health Care Association.
The association represents about 100 nursing homes and 100 assisted-living facilities.
The crisis in long-term care arises, in part, from Maine's status as the oldest state in the nation. Maine's median age -- 43.5 years -- is the highest in the United States, in part because the state also has a dwindling younger population, according to the U.S. Census. The state's proportion of people age 65 and older -- 17 percent -- is second only to Florida's 18.2 percent.
By 2030, more than 25 percent of Mainers will be age 65 or older, putting greater demand on long-term care facilities that are already overburdened.
"I see a whole system that's under stress," Erb continued. He referred to several long-term care facilities across Maine that are either up for sale, in receivership, eliminating beds or shutting down altogether.
"And it's not as though MaineCare beds were plentiful before St. Joseph's announced its plans," Erb continued. He said there's a 92 percent occupancy rate for the 4,232 beds in assisted-living facilities that accept MaineCare, the state's form of Medicaid.
St. Joseph's circumstance also highlights a MaineCare funding gap that pushes the unreimbursed cost of MaineCare recipients -- who make up 80 percent of assisted-living residents -- onto the few residents who are paying their own way.
Twenty-eight of the 34 residents (82 percent) who are being discharged from St. Joseph's are MaineCare recipients, according to the Office of MaineCare Services at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
The MaineCare funding gap also has forced many facilities to put off much needed renovations for years, Erb said. It's no surprise that St. Joseph's board of directors decided to renovate the assisted-living unit in the 40-year-old facility, he said. Forty-one percent of MaineCare-dependent assisted-living facilities need to be renovated or replaced, according to the Muskie School of Public Service.
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