Despite having the oldest population of any state, Maine has seen its total number of nursing homes plummet in recent years amid reimbursement and staffing pressures — with 2018 ranking as the worst ever.
Six nursing homes closed in the New England state this year, according to a Wednesday report from the Bangor Daily News, with a particular concentration of rural facilities struggling with less-than-full census and Medicaid rates that haven’t kept up with operating costs.
“We have spots where there may be a surplus of beds, at least at this time, and some places where there are waiting lists,” Richard Erb, president of the Maine Health Care Association, told the paper. “Sometimes the rural facilities struggle. That raises the question of what do we do [to] preserve access so people don’t have to drive 50 miles or more in order to receive the services?”
Rural facilities across the nation have taken serious hits in recent years, with the sharpest quarter-to-quarter occupancy drop of any provider type in the most recent set of data from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC). They must also grapple with an even smaller pool of qualified, available workers than their urban counterparts in many cases, and can suffer from greater fluctuations in census — while overhead costs remain static.
Maine has lost 40 nursing homes since 1995, the Bangor Daily News reported, shedding one per year in 2016 and 2017 before the significant drop this past year. Three of the six were owned by the same family, which sold the properties to a firm that converted the buildings into residential care facilities, according to the publication.
That’s a significant problem for the state with the highest population age. In 2017, Maine beat out neighboring New Hampshire and Vermont to yet again retain its title as America’s oldest state with a median age of 44.6, the Census Bureau found. Since 2010, America’s Vacationland has seen its population of children under age 18 drop by about 22,000, while the 65-and-older population ballooned by 55,000 to gobble up 20% of the state’s overall total, the Portland Press-Herald found.
The Daily News report pointed out that Maine’s nursing homes had a similar distribution of winners and losers under the new Value-Based Purchasing program — with about 70% seeing some kind of cut after failing to hit readmission benchmarks, and around 30% enjoying a bonus — as the national average. But an official from the state’s long-term care ombudsman office told the paper that facilities near hospitals often lose out on Medicare reimbursements, as the acute care facilities can often provide those services in house.
And Erb painted a bleak picture of the mergers-and-acquisitions landscape in the state, telling the publication that the providers that shut their doors had all first attempted to sell.
“If those independent owners want to get out of the business, there’s almost never a market to sell their facility,” he said. “There’s no interest.”
Written by Alex Spanko