The failure for Maine’s lawmakers to finalize work will hurt thousands who need help the most

By Ramona du Houx

People with severe disabilities are suffering —

“I know of a  74-year-old woman with end-stage COPD living alone, who is eligible for MaineCare home care, but she hasn’t received it in almost a year because of staffing shortages. She has had to pay her neighbors to pick up groceries and prepare her meals,” said Maine’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Brenda Gallant. “She has had multiple ED visits and increased health problems.” 

Both Democrats and Republicans previously expressed support for LD 323 — to provide about $5.2 million to move 300 people with disabilities off waiting lists and into community-based programs so they can move out of their parents’ homes. That too failed to become law.

As of August of 2017 there were over 1,600 Mainers with severe disabilities on the waiting list for round-the-clock care. Funding 300 slots will help some, but the state is far from meeting its obligation to support people with disabilities. And the list continues to grow. 

The state needs to increase wages for direct care workers because Maine has a shortage for the pay isn't enough to live on.

In 2017 when the Legislature faced a state shutdown, legislative leaders got together to hammer out a bipartisan budget deal that would increase Medicaid reimbursements to provide wage increases for the state’s 26,000 direct care workers who care for the elderly and people with disabilities. 

But this year the Legislature failed to enact the legislation despite public statements by leaders of both political parties saying they would make this law happen.

Providers are worried they’ll either have to decrease wages for direct care workers or close down.  

According to the Maine Council on Aging, the average wage of a direct care worker is between $10 and $12 per hour and about 53 percent of them rely on public assistance because most of them work part-time with no benefits.

There are other bills that didn’t become law. As a result thousands more will suffer needlessly. Home care agencies across the state are experiencing enormous staffing shortages, which is resulting in preventable health complications, emergency room visits, family members going into debt for their relatives, and placements in nursing homes at a much higher cost than home care.

Republicans and Democrats had publically agreed to support LD 1466 — to provide about $11.1 million to give wage increases to direct care workers in nursing homes.

“As we all know, Maine has the oldest population in the country. With folks living at home long into their 80s and 90s with little or no care, there can be little doubt that this crisis will grow if we do not take immediate action,” said Jess Mauer, co-chair of the Maine Council on Aging.

There are more than 60,000 Mainers who are 80 years or older living in Maine.

And LD 1188 — to provide over $1 million for cost-of-living increases for workers at assisted living facilities known as PNMIs.

“A cost-of-living adjustment is critical to absorb the increasing costs of staffing and operating these facilities,” said Maine Health Care Association President Rick Erb.

PNMIs are less costly than nursing homes and have helped to reduce the number of people going into nursing homes by a third since the 1990s.

Earlier in April Republicans and Democrats both had agreed to support LD 1820 —

 to allocate over $2.8 million to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for support services for children with cognitive impairment and functional limitations.

The legislature adjourned without finalizing this bill too.

The job of the legislature is to work together to make laws that help the citizens of the state.  The failure to enact basic laws for the needs of those who need help the most clearly means that come November the people of Maine need to vote in Representatives that can overcome the partisan divide.