The Maine Veterans Home in Caribou is one of two in the state that are set to close this spring, according to officials from the nonprofit chain of veterans care facilities. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

AUGUSTA, Maine — After five weeks of public and legislative outcry, the Maine Veterans Homes Board of Trustees voted Friday to keep the Caribou and Machias centers open.

The vote followed five weeks of protest from patients’ families, health care providers and veterans groups, along with a legislative effort by Maine Senate President Troy Jackson and others, after Maine Veterans Homes announced on Feb. 24 it would close the Caribou and Machias facilities.

Maine Veterans Homes are also located in Bangor, Augusta, Scarborough and South Paris.

Citing budget shortfalls, staff challenges and a declining number of veterans, Maine Veterans Homes said its only option was to close the two locations it said were underperforming. But resounding community support, along with concerns about moving aging veterans away from their families and familiar surroundings, prompted Jackson’s effort to keep the homes open.

“The legislation was pretty clear that they needed to stay open, but I am happy they decided to do the right thing so we can put the anxiety of residents and employees in the homes to rest,” said Senate President Troy Jackson. “Now, we need to work on long-term solutions to prevent this situation from happening in the future. I am very happy this won’t be looming over the residents any longer.”

LD 2001, requiring Maine Veterans Homes to seek funding and to obtain approval from lawmakers before any closures, was proposed by Jackson and unanimously passed both houses of the Maine Legislature. Gov. Janet Mills signed it into law on March 31.

The new law lays out a public and transparent closure process; and puts back into statute the six municipalities where Maine Veterans’ Homes must be located. Governor Mills has dedicated $3.5 million to keep the homes open.

The vote by the MVH Board of Trustees came the following day on April 1.

“This vote is a much-deserved victory for our veterans, their families, and the staff at the Homes in Caribou and Machias. Our veterans have earned the right to receive care near their families in the communities they love,” Mills said.  

She said that with the work of the Legislature and the Maine Veterans’ Homes Board of Trustees, the homes in Machias and Caribou will stay open, allowing veterans to stay where they are and keep people employed while serving veterans in rural Maine.

For weeks, veterans, their families and staff at the Caribou and Machias homes dealt with uncertainty about the closures and where residents would be transferred, Jackson said.

“Today, folks can finally breathe a sigh of relief now that Gov. Mills has signed LD 2001 into law and that the Board has reconsidered its closure vote.”

Caribou City Manager Penny Thompson said she was thankful for everyone who helped keep the veterans homes in operation, including lawmakers and the employees of the homes who sent out letters and submitted testimony to the Legislature.

“Their unwavering devotion is an example worthy of our most heartfelt praise,” Thompson said.

The Maine Veterans’ Homes were established by the Maine Legislature in 1977 as a state-chartered nonprofit. The facilities provide long-term and skilled nursing care to veterans and certain family members.

Star-Herald reporters David DiMinno and Melissa Lizotte contributed to this report.