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by Faith DeAmbrose
“It’s not often that I get outraged,” said Blue Hill Selectman Jim Schatz to his fellow board members, as he explained recent developments related to closing the Penobscot Nursing Home.
Schatz has been following the legal and financial twists and turns at the facility since 2008, when it was placed under receivership by the state. Now, as its closure appears to be only a matter of time, Schatz has spent the last few weeks meeting with many people connected with those developments to see if another solution—one that keeps such a facility in the immediate area—could be realized. After a report to the board outlining those efforts, Schatz gained the support of board chairman Duane Gray and Selectman John Bannister in moving forward and in expanding the effort to include wider support.
Bannister said that, while it is not often he agrees with Schatz, he believes this issue is important not only for Penobscot, but for the greater community. “We are all in this together,” Bannister said about the people of the Peninsula, and there is a “huge difference” between Penobscot and Bucksport in terms of local service areas.
In a plan outlined by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, and filed with Kennebec County Superior Court April 6, DHHS officials have asked the court to lift the receivership, grant them the “bed rights” and allow the sale of those rights to First Atlantic Healthcare for $500,000. According to the court documents, DHHS plans to move the residents of PNH “when a suitable alternative placement for the residents becomes available in nearby Bucksport.” It is estimated this will take 18 to 24 months.
“We need a name and a phone number [of someone at the Maine DHHS] and we need to get all those concerned to barrage that office with calls. We, as elected officials, know that, when large numbers of people express their opinions on something, we sit right up and listen,” Bannister said.
In a unanimous vote, Bannister and Gray authorized Schatz to engage his letter-writing and phone skills to explore options and “see if we can’t get enough people to care,” said Bannister.
According to court documents, opposition to the DHHS motion must be filed “no later than 21 days after the filing of the motion, unless another time is provided by the Rules or set by the court.”
What is happening at PNH?
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has petitioned the court to lift the receivership, which the nursing home has been in for more than four years, and give it full rights to the facility’s allotment of beds. In those court documents, DHHS outlines a plan to sell those bed rights to the First Atlantic Corporation to be used at a new facility they will build in Bucksport. After the facility has been constructed, First Atlantic would transfer all remaining patients at PNH who have not made other arrangements to the new Bucksport facility. DHHS would close the Penobscot Nursing Home.
The Penobscot Nursing Home owns the rights for 96 beds, but operates 88. Currently the facility is full and there is a waiting list for additional clients. PNH employs 85 people and has an annual payroll in excess of $2.5 million.
What are the likely next steps?
The board of selectmen authorized Schatz to contact other local boards of selectmen to gauge interest. Schatz said he would begin to write letters to the appropriate people and would also speak with the administrator of the Island Nursing Home, which has indicated it would petition the court to gain an undisclosed number of bed rights. INH Administrator Marc Plourde said INH has no desire to take over operation at PNH, but if successful in purchasing some of the bed rights, would look into expanding its facility.
Those interested in exploring “outside of the box” ideas to keep Penobscot Nursing Home either in Penobscot or in another Peninsula town are encouraged to contact Schatz at the Blue Hill town office at 374-2281.