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by Faith DeAmbrose
As word spread about the proposed closure of the Penobscot Nursing Home by Maine Department of Health and Human Services this past week, public officials from Blue Hill have taken formal board action seeking to support a solution that would keep the facility either in Penobscot or somewhere across the greater Blue Hill Peninsula.
Speaking at a meeting of the Blue Hill Board of Selectmen on April 13, board member Jim Schatz outlined a number of unfruitful efforts he took over the last three weeks to get more information about DHHS plans. He said that he believes the residents within the Penobscot Nursing Home service area, which he indicated as being from Penobscot to Deer Isle, should have been informed about the DHHS court filing and its intentions to obtain and sell the bed rights to an out-of-area entity such as First Atlantic Corporation.
On April 6, DHHS filed a court motion to have the court-appointed receivership, in place since 2008, lifted so it could “close the Penobscot Facility when a suitable alternate placement for the residents becomes available in nearby Bucksport, Maine.”
In addition, according to the documents obtained this week by the Castine Patriot, DHHS asked the court to immediately foreclose on a $1 million lien placed against the facility’s assets, which are identified as its bed rights, by MaineCare and allow DHHS to sell the bed rights to First Atlantic Healthcare, who plans to construct a nursing/residential care facility in Bucksport.
Lastly, DHHS seeks a court order to relocate “the residents of the Penobscot Facility to the FAC facility in Bucksport when that facility is completed and ready for occupancy, unless the residents identify alternative care and housing arrangements.”
According to DHHS Director of Communications John Martins, PNH currently owes MaineCare over $1 million and that amount was secured by a lien filed and secured as provided by Maine law. He said First Atlantic Corporation has offered $500,000 for the bed rights at the Penobscot Facility, and, if the courts approve the DHHS plan as presented, those funds would be given to MaineCare in partial satisfaction of the lien. Martins did not say where the additional funds would come from. When asked what a typical bed right sells for, Martins said, “There is no fixed price on the open market for bed rights.”
Martins said the courts are being asked to approve the DHHS plan, but that it could choose to do something different based on information it obtains. “The Superior Court would have to decide who should be sold the beds from the Penobscot Facility. DHHS in certain circumstances would have to decide if the allocation of the beds to different facilities is appropriate under the [state] Certification of Need Act and/or the [federal] Principals of Reimbursement,” wrote Martins in an e-mail dated April 13. He said he expects a court decision to take “at least several months.”
The time to oppose the court filing has a much more finite window; it must occur “no more than 21 days after the filing of [the] motion,” according to the Maine Rules of Civil Procedure.
In the meantime, the Blue Hill Board of Selectmen plan to work with the Penobscot Board of Selectmen in finding a solution that would leave such a facility either in Penobscot or somewhere on the greater Blue Hill Peninsula. They plan to write letters and encourage other elected officials in the area to join with them.
“We need a name and a phone number [of someone at Maine DHHS], and we need to get all those concerned to barrage that office with calls. We know that, as elected officials, when large numbers of people express their opinions on something we sit right up and listen,” said Blue Hill selectman John Bannister.
Those interested in exploring “outside of the box” ideas to keep PNH either in Penobscot or in another Peninsula town are encouraged to contact Schatz at the Blue Hill town office at 374-2281.
Those looking to express their opinions on the matter to DHHS can direct them to the Division of Licensing and Regulatory Service, Director Kenneth Albert at 287-9300 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or to Communications Director John Martins 287-5012 email@example.com.