LePage Taps State and Federal Funds to Shore up Maine Nursing Homes

Jul 17, 2014

Gov. Paul LePage explains his nursing home funding fix as Maine DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew looks on.
Gov. Paul LePage explains his nursing home funding fix as Maine DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew looks on.
Credit A.J. Higgins

The LePage administration says it has found nearly $5 million to help Maine's 106 nursing homes meet rising operating costs. Together with federal matching funds and a legislative initiative approved earlier this year, the state's nursing homes will receive a $25 million boost over the next year. 

Gov. Paul LePage said he had been trying to convince the Legislature to call itself back into session to deal with the nursing home funding crisis, but opted to go it alone.

Gov. Paul LePage said he got tired of waiting for legislative leaders to call themselves into session to deal with the nursing home problem. And with the recent closure of two nursing homes, the governor said it was time for him to take unilateral action.

"So I told Commissioner Mayhew: 'Find money,'" LePage said, 'Find whatever savings, money that we've saved, either through improved management, improved efficiencies, whatever. If there's money left over we're going to use it to save the nursing homes.'"

Maine lawmakers passed a nursing home assistance bill earlier this year that provided a total of $12.3 million in additional funds.  And although he directed most of his remarks towards helping seniors and the elderly during the hastily called press conference, LePage did have some choice words for Democrats, who he said abandoned their responsibilities.

"Listen, I'm not going to stand by anymore and listen to slick-talking politicians giving lip service - that time is over and we're taking action," LePage said. "And the Legislature is not part of this solution. They are part of the problem. And if they want to take action, they can call themselves back and take action."

Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said that, as a result of successful efforts to rein in spending in the Medicaid program, the department was able to find an additional $4.6 million in funding that will draw down $8.5 million in federal matching funds. That brings the total to $25.4 million dollars for the state's nursing homes over the next year.

"We have instituted a lot of reforms that have led to a more efficient management of the MaineCare program," Mayhew said. "Certainly our emergency department project is one that has helped to produce significant savings by reducing preventable utilization of the emergency department. The combined efforts that have occurred over the last three-and-a-half years have allowed us to realize increased savings and funds, that as we near the end of this fiscal year, we have additional funds that were carried forward."

At the Maine Health Care Association, Rick Erb, president and CEO, said the 200 long-term care providers who belong to the organization will be deeply appreciative of the administration's efforts, which he said should produce a stabilizing effect - at least through July 31 of next year. Erb says Maine's population is growing older by leaps and bounds.

"Maine's demographics, like most states, are daunting - we have a huge, growing elder population," Erb says. 'We need to keep our long-term care facilities and other services on sound fiscal footing. We have reduced the number of beds in Maine's nursing homes over the years to the point where we need to retain what we have - we're going to need them."

Democrats said they were pleased LePage had decided to direct DHHS resources to assist the nursing homes, but questioned why he wanted to call a special session in the first place. Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson is also skeptical about  the DHHS savings.

"You can't call the Legislature in when there's no plan, and the savings that Commissioner Mayhew is talking about, she never even told you today where they are actually coming from," Jackson said. "She just said there were savings. How do we know?"

LePage said he had hoped to use the $4.6 million to provide health care for uninsured Mainers on state waiting lists and would have preferred to have the Legislature develop a separate plan for the nursing homes. Democrats say the entire press conference was an attempt to get Maine seniors to forget about a press release in which the administration referred to Social Security as welfare.