AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills swiftly signed a bill requiring the nonprofit Maine Veterans’ Homes to seek funding and seek lawmakers’ OK before closing facilities Thursday after its unanimous passage through the Legislature.
The bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, progressed quickly through the State House after the state-chartered nonprofit in February announced plans to close its homes in Machias and Caribou this spring. It passed just two weeks before the Machias home is supposed to close as an emergency bill.
Maine Veterans’ Homes provides long-term and skilled nursing care to veterans and certain family members at six facilities. The organization has operated at a deficit for two years, with the two homes targeted in the bill losing $2 million annually for several years, according to the nonprofit. The bill would use general, special and federal funds to provide $3.5 million in supplemental payments to the homes through 2023. The receipt of those funds would be contingent upon providing services, but the bill does not require the home to stay open for a set amount of time.
The Legislature’s unanimous vote, along with Mills’ promise to put funding for the homes in her supplemental budget package, all but assured the bill’s future. But the fate of the homes is not assured, as leaders at the nonprofit have said the legislation will not address staffing challenges they have faced or changing demographics in the state and will essentially take away the governing board’s authority.
It is not clear how the passage will affect the plans to close the facilities. Maine Veterans’ Homes did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the vote.
Supporters said the bill was critical to keeping veterans housed near their families and in facilities that provide quality care. They also stressed how important it would be to continue working with the nonprofit to ensure its success. That includes creating a stakeholder group meant to study how to return the homes to economic vitality.
“We know money cannot solve the problem alone,” said Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop.
Sen. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, said support for the homes should not end with the passage of the bill.
“Keep your eye on the prize that is our Maine veterans and what we want to give them going forward,” he said.