AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine has not put aside sufficient cash to fulfill an obligation to spice up pay for employees at struggling nursing houses, spurring fear that the funding might not make it right into a spending invoice earlier than lawmakers depart Augusta for the 12 months.
Lawmakers accepted elevating the pay for direct care employees at nursing and residential amenities to at the very least 125 p.c of the state minimal wage final summer time after years of the trade decrying low Medicaid reimbursement charges that make it tough to keep up employees. Gov. Janet Mills started releasing that cash in January forward of a deliberate July price bump.
The Democratic governor’s $1.2 billion spending proposal now being thought of by the Legislature consists of a further one-time $7.6 million infusion to assist with labor prices and $25 million extra in state and federal funds to offset pandemic prices. That funding for nursing houses, together with a value of residing adjustment, can be anticipated to kick in by July.
This funds consists of cash to extend reimbursement charges for different suppliers to 125 p.c. Nevertheless it doesn’t embrace nursing dwelling employees whereas the state completes a price overview. That may very well be problematic for an trade struggling to draw employees whereas caring for weak residents. With lower than two weeks earlier than the Legislature is meant to adjourn, nursing dwelling pursuits argue the state must act rapidly to ensure the workforce stays steady.
“[The money] doesn’t fill the hole to maintain the workforce we have to maintain amenities open,” mentioned Angela Westhoff, CEO of the Maine Well being Care Affiliation, a nursing dwelling trade group.
5 nursing houses have closed since 2021 in Maine, with many citing long-term staffing points, declining occupancy, lack of inexpensive housing for employees and a state vaccine mandate final 12 months that had little total impact on well being care employment however hit nursing houses more durable than many different settings. Maine almost misplaced two veterans houses in Caribou and Machias earlier than lawmakers rushed via a bailout invoice.
Whereas closures have eased during the last a number of months, the trade continues to be reeling. A latest Maine Well being Care Affiliation survey of 200 members discovered over 40 p.c of amenities thought of staffing to be at disaster ranges, regardless of 55 p.c offering bonuses and extra compensation. Three-fourths of amenities mentioned they elevated reliance on contract employees.
The state is engaged on calculating how a lot cash it might want to make sure employees are assembly that threshold, mentioned Jackie Farwell, a spokesperson for the Division of Well being and Human Companies. However It was not clear if that work would end in time so as to add it into this funds. She pointed to a number of different cases the place Maine has aided the trade within the pandemic.
“The Division is dedicated to completely funding these charges,” she mentioned.
Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, who sits on the Legislature’s well being committee, mentioned a delay in growing reimbursement charges may result in additional closures. Rep. Sawin Millett of Waterford, a prime Republican on the funds committee, mentioned the subject is more likely to come up subsequent week as his committee panel evaluations previous funding for the trade.
“They’re undoubtedly a degree of concern,” Millett mentioned.
However more cash alone can not tackle all the issues nursing houses are dealing with, mentioned Jabbar Fazeli, who leads the Maine Medical Administrators Affiliation and administers a handful of southern Maine nursing houses. He famous houses had been providing massive sign-on bonuses and growing pay however nonetheless struggling to search out employees.
Various cost charges for Medicare plans provided by contracted personal firms have additionally hit amenities’ backside traces. One potential answer is permitting abroad employees into the nation faster to present nursing houses extra candidates to drag from, he mentioned.
“Persons are doing no matter it takes to draw the employees,” he mentioned. “There simply isn’t sufficient employees, sadly.”