AUGUSTA, Maine — Senate President Troy Jackson’s bill meant to provide money to the nonprofit Maine Veterans’ Homes in hopes of keeping the Caribou and Machias facilities open made it through initial votes in both houses of the Legislature Tuesday.
The final vote on LD 2001 is expected on Thursday, March 31. If it passes, the bill will be sent to Gov. Janet Mills for signing.
The bill was submitted in response to Maine Veterans’ Homes’ announcement at the end of February that it would close two of its rural facilities. The Machias home is expected to close on April 15, and the Caribou facility on May 1. In the last month, there has been an outpouring of support from both lawmakers and community members to keep the two facilities open, citing hardships to the veterans and their families if they had to move — possibly to other parts of the state.
Maine Veterans’ Homes, which provides long-term and skilled nursing care to veterans and qualified family members at its six facilities in the state, has operated in the red for the last two years. Machias and Caribou homes have lost a combined total of $2 million annually for the last several years, according to the nonprofit’s spokesperson Christine Henson in February.
The facilities are on track to lose a combined $3 million this year, she said. Besides Machias and Caribou, there are homes in Bangor, Augusta, Scarborough and South Paris.
Jackson’s bill says the Legislature intends to have homes in Caribou and Machias, but it still allows administrators to close homes after a notification, a legislative committee hearing and board authorization. It enshrines a new requirement that the nonprofit seek state, federal and private funding. As a condition of taking this round of aid, the homes must commit to continuing services in Caribou and Machias. The bill does not say for how long.
But the Maine Veterans’ Homes board has said that even with money to offset the last two years’ deficits, it is looking toward the future, including the state’s changing demographics. In its response to a letter from Gov. Janet Mills last month, the board said that Maine’s veteran population is declining, and that even with a delayed two-year closure, there will be challenges finding proper staffing with the workforce shortage.
Jackson was in high spirits Tuesday after convening with the Senate, hoping for a positive outcome on March 31.
“I definitely feel good,” Jackson said. “We still have work to do to get it enacted and signed by the governor but I feel good. We should be in a good position on Thursday.”
The bill needs a two-thirds majority vote to move to the governor’s desk on Thursday.
Reporter Melissa Lizotte and Senior Editor Michael Shepherd contributed to this story.