A proposed regional nursing facility in Rockland would replace two existing aging facilities, including the Knox Center. Credit: Lauren Abbate | BDN

ROCKLAND, Maine ― Local hospital officials and a private developer have put forth a plan to build a new $16.5 million nursing home off Old County Road to replace two inefficient skilled-nursing facilities in Knox County.

It would save Pen Bay Medical Center about $2 million in annual operating losses from the elder care facilities it currently manages. However, some neighbors of the proposed site are worried the new facility would generate too much traffic and is not an appropriate fit for their residential area.

The city will hold a listening session Wednesday evening for people to comment on the zoning change that Portland-based developer Sandy River Co. is requesting to build the facility.

“People already view the speed limit [on Old County Road] as a mere suggestion and exiting our driveway is often a risky event. Surely the addition of a 100-bed facility would increase traffic,” Old County Road residents Tracy and Christopher Collins said in a letter to the city.

The proposed 90- to 110-bed, 65,000-square-foot facility would be built on 28 acres located at 41 Cranberry Isles Drive off Old County Road near a residential neighborhood.

Rockland City Council is slated to vote on the zoning change next month. If approved, Sandy River’s proposal will go before the planning board for site-plan review and approval.

The new facility would replace Rockland’s Knox Center and the skilled nursing portion of Quarry Hill in Camden. Both facilities are managed by Pen Bay Medical Center, which is operated by Coastal Healthcare Alliance.

Local hospital officials and a private developer have put forth a plan to build a new $16.5 million nursing home off Old County Road in Rockland. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy River Co.

The Knox Center was converted from a hospital to a 44-bed nursing home in 1976. The age of the building and its layout causes the facility to be inefficient in providing care, according to Coastal Healthcare Alliance President Dr. Mark Fourre.

While Quarry Hill’s 39-bed skilled nursing building is newer than the Knox Center, it presents many of the same logistical problems and most patients must share a room.

“That’s not an ideal situation if that’s going to be home for the rest of your life. And from an infectious disease standpoint it’s a huge problem. If there was any question about that before the COVID-19 pandemic, I think that’s been pretty clearly shown to be a huge liability in looking at delivering care if you can’t sequester people appropriately,” Fourre said.

The new single-story facility would offer private rooms, greater patient access to outdoor space and a layout that is more conducive to providing elder care than the existing facilities, Fourre said.

“The new state-of-the-art senior care center will ensure that high quality senior care services will remain available to Knox County residents,” Sandy River Managing Partner Daniel Maguire said.

Sandy River ― which operates numerous nursing homes across Maine ― would oversee the facility.

The hospital would staff the facility with several clinicians and “routinely be involved in educational aspects and connected through a hospital standpoint,” Fourre said.

By taking elder care facilities out of Pen Bay Medical Center’s umbrella, Fourre said the financial losses the existing facilities generate can be reinvested into the hospital itself.

Sandy River has the necessary capital and expertise to make the new facility financially sustainable, Fourre said.

“Pen Bay, like other hospitals, has struggled to be able to have the elder care services part of the organization be run in an efficient manner,” Fourre said. “The capital investments for the new facility will be done by Sandy River. At Pen Bay we just don’t have that type of capital.”

A public listening session will begin at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the parking lot behind Rockland City Hall. Attendees must wear masks and remain socially distant from others. The formal public hearing on the proposed zoning change will be at the Sept. 24 city council meeting, via the video meeting service, Zoom.