Committee unanimously approves Jackson bill to fund the Maine Veterans’ Homes

AUGUSTA – A bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to provide funding to the Maine Veterans’ Homes in the midst of a growing financial crisis faced by the organization was unanimously approved by the Legislature’s Veteran and Legal Affairs Committee last week immediately following the public hearing. The bill – LD 2217, “An Act to Strengthen Maine Veterans’ Homes with Increased and Ongoing Funding” – will now go before the full Legislature for additional votes in the coming weeks.

“The Legislature made a commitment to Maine veterans when it established Maine Veterans’ Homes in 1977; a commitment that those who served our state and country would receive the high quality care and the treatments they need to continue living a decent life,” said President Jackson. “We renewed that commitment in 2022 by passing LD 2001, which kept the Machias and Caribou MVH locations from closing. If today’s Legislature chooses not to provide the funding that is held in LD 2217, we will be breaking that commitment. I intend to see that our commitment is upheld.”

This legislation would provide an additional $3.1 million in annual funding to Maine Veterans’ Homes. MVH is a quasi-state, independent non-profit organization that provides high-quality care and knowledgeable staff specifically to Maine veterans and their families. LD 2217 comes only one year after the Legislature provided a one-time payment under LD 985 to Maine Veterans’ Homes to make up for lagging reimbursement rates.

“The bottom line is this,” said Sharon Fusco, CEO of the Maine Veterans’ Homes. “This bill is critical to the future of Maine Veterans’ Homes because current MaineCare reimbursement rates are insufficient to cover the cost of care. Without this funding, our board of trustees will face the very real threat of closure within 36 months. I believe the state veteran home program is a unique partnership between the State and Maine Veterans’ Homes. And for most of MVH’s history, this partnership worked even without state funding. Reimbursement rates were adequate, MVH’s payer mix was diverse, and MVH provided solid fiscal stewardship. But as this committee knows well, expenses have dramatically outpaced revenues over the last few years, driven primarily through inadequate reimbursement. LD 2217 offer the opportunity to rectify that situation.”

While the MaineCare reimbursement gap has existed since 2017, the pandemic spurred a number of problems, including record low occupancy rates, an increased reliance on temporary staff, and an overall increase in wages for staff and caregivers. Last year Maine Veterans’ Homes lost $14 million. The deficit would have been even greater if the Legislature and Governor Mills’ supplemental budget did not provide roughly $3 million to help make up for these losses.

Maine Veterans’ Homes was created by the Legislature in 1977 to provide long term care services to Maine’s veterans and their eligible family members. They operate as a quasi-state, nonprofit organization and have locations in Augusta, Caribou, Scarborough, South Paris, Bangor and Machias. MVH operates separately from the VA, but works closely with the department to access federal funds to cover residents who are covered by VA benefits.

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