News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, August 7, 2014
Penobscot Nursing Home looks to convert beds to residential care, independent living
No longer funded to provide nursing care

Click here to see the full Penobscot Nursing Home Archive.

Penobscot Nursing Home seeks a change

The Penobscot Nursing Home hopes to transition 30+ empty beds to residential care and independent living.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

With the loss of its funding to provide skilled nursing care from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and with those residents transitioned to other facilities, the Penobscot Nursing Home hopes to convert the empty beds to its residential care unit and to add something new: an independent living center.

“Our beds are still our beds,” said Lisa Gosselin, receiver for Connecticut-based ELR Care, which technically owns the nursing home which has been under state-mandated receivership since 2008. She outlined a plan to selectmen from Blue Hill, Penobscot and Brooksville, nursing home staff and relatives of residents to convert a portion of the 30 empty beds to Northern Bay Residential Care, which operates 54 beds now, and a portion to private and semi-private independent living rooms. The informal meeting was held at PNH on August 5.

“There definitely is a need” for an affordable independent living center, Gosselin said, and statewide waiting lists for residential care beds. She is ready to file a Letter of Intent with the Department of Health and Human Services this week, indicating that ELR Care plans to file a Certificate of Need and a Conversion of Use in order to convert the empty beds to residential care. The state does not regulate independent living centers, Gosselin said.

Further, DHHS is not resisting the plan put forth by ELR Care, Gosselin said. Gosselin met with DHHS representatives last week in Augusta, which Penobscot Selectman Harold Hatch and Blue Hill Selectman Jim Schatz also attended.

“They seemed to be a little more receptive than I thought they would be,” Gosselin said.

Independent living centers provide meals, housekeeping and laundry services to residents, but not medical care, although that can be arranged, Gosselin said. ELR Care has identified a need in the area for long- and short-term independent living units at an affordable cost, especially during the winter.

“If you’re poor, you’re all set. You have Medicaid. If you’re wealthy, you have Parker Ridge,” Gosselin said. An independent living center at PNH could fill the gap, charging $1,800 per month for a private room and $1,200-$1,300 a month for a two-person room. Activities and social services would be available to all residents of the home; concierge services, such as prescription pick-up or transport to medical appointments, would be considered extra.

Schatz questioned the willingness of DHHS to approve the bed conversion.

“Memos coming out of the state would lead me to believe” DHHS is against the project, he said. “Is there a change? Or do they think the Certificate of Need process is going to kill [the project]?”

The Certificate of Need unit “is not attached and doesn’t answer to DHHS,” Gosselin said. “There’s been an adversarial issue all along with the receivership to get the beds back,” she continued. While “using finances” didn’t work, administrative issues related to care ultimately resulted in a loss of the nursing care funding. “But they didn’t take our beds away.”

Schatz and Penobscot selectmen had questions about structure and infrastructure, namely the troubled overboard discharge [septic] system, and the barn owned by PNH across the street that is in disrepair.

The septic system is “a long-standing issue,” said Gosselin, that is being addressed through an engineering plan, with a state grant to reimburse at least 75 percent of its cost. ELR Care has been given until September 2015 under the court-ordered receivership.

In the meantime, maintenance supervisor (and Penobscot Selectman) Stanley Shorey “has done a very good job of maintaining and monitoring a broken system,” Gosselin said.

The barn, which PNH currently uses for storage, “is a danger to everyone…It’s an eyesore,” Penobscot Selectman Paul Bowen said. Residents have asked selectmen to find a way to condemn it. “It needs to be taken down or it needs to be repaired, from our perspective.”

“It’s not at the top of my priority list,” Gosselin said, but she “can look into” it, using capital improvement funds from ELR Care. The question is whether to rebuild it or tear it down.

The possibility of an independent living center in Penobscot met with approval by those at the informal meeting.

“This sounds like a good idea, especially in the winter,” said Brooksville Selectman Darrell Fowler. “There is an interest out there.”