Janet Mills is leaving nursing homes “on the brink” say lawmakers

Gov. Janet Mills does a television interview.

AUGUSTA – Maine Senate Republicans released a statement Monday calling out Governor Janet Mills for holding a bill to provide funding to Maine’s nursing homes and leaving some of them “on the brink.”

Senator Marianne Moore said, ““I was very disappointed to hear the Governor has chosen to not sign this important bill into law!  During the public hearing members of the Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on how critical this continued funding was to avoid additional closures of nursing facilities and residential care facilities across the State.  Postponing this funding for six months is detrimental to the continuum of care for our Elderly.”

Senator Bob Foley explained in the statement that he had been struggling to find a place for his mother while the legislature was working on the bill Gov. Mills is refusing to act on, “While the legislature was pushing to fund this bill in the last few days of the session, I was struggling to place my own mother in a senior living facility. After calling facilities as far as two hours away and finding no beds available, I was forced to take her out of state. The governor’s lack of action on this bill will make that same struggle a difficult reality for too many Maine families for no good reason.”

Part of the bill was designed to provide funding to relieve the burden and make more beds available to Maine seniors in need.

Another piece of the bill would have extended reimbursements to nursing homes for nursing home staff. Those reimbursements expired on July 1 due to Mills’ inaction and Republicans say nursing homes now will have to choose between decreasing staff pay or finding a way to maintain the pay rates using other funds.

By stopping the bill from becoming law, Governor Mills has postponed any funding for at least six months, “which may jeopardize other facilities who are already operating on the brink,” said the statement.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Mills told the Portland Press Herald that her concerns with the bill relate to federal reimbursement rates. Most often those concerns are worked out in the process of a committee conducting work sessions on a bill, or through amendments in the legislature if a Governor supports a bill.

An expert disagreed with Mills’ assessment, saying it was based on a misinterpretation by her administration.

If Mills’ interpretation were correct, however, it could point a damning finger at Maine’s minimum wage law, which is quickly raising the wage and would be effectively pricing workers at a rate that prevents federal reimbursements. Mills’ claim appears to be the sort of unintended consequence that opponents of the current minimum wage structure in Maine have been warning about.

Wanda Pelkey, the CFO of First Atlantic Healthcare, sounded the alarm in her testimony to the Legislature, “When we run out of money, there are many losers and no winners. More 100 year old persons displaced, more community jobs lost, and more stressed municipal budgets. Honestly, I don’t know how to solve the dilemma without your support and passage of LD 1758.”

Rather than seek a solution, Senate President Troy Jackson, attacked Republicans in a statement to the Portland Press Herald, saying that not enough of them voted for the state budget.

It’s unclear how Jackson’s argument about a budget vote correlates to the bill in question. The nursing home bill passed with unanimous support in the House and Senate as an emergency measure. The funding for the bill does exist in the state budget that just passed. That funding was secured by Republicans on the last day of the legislative session that just ended, they said, even though Sen. Jackson sponsored the bill.

Governor Mills did not include any of the nursing home funding provided in L.D. 1758 in her proposed budget.

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