Gardiner Health Care Facility in Houlton will be closing its 38-bed nursing unit, citing a lack of nurses to fill positions. In its place, the facility will expand its residential care unit to accommodate more individuals who do not require as much high-level care. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine – Placing a loved one into a nursing home can be a difficult, gut-wrenching decision for most people.

It is not only a life-altering move for the patient, but it can also leave those in charge of a loved one’s care with feelings of guilt. And when an unplanned move happens, it can take a toll on both parties.

Last Thursday’s announcement that Gardiner Health Care, a nursing home and skilled care facility in Houlton, was closing its 38-bed nursing unit and replacing it with a residential care wing shocked patients and their families. Now those 27 families are scrambling to find a place for their loved ones.

Rosa McNally of Houlton is one of those people. Her 84-year-old mother, Eva McNally, was a resident of Gardiner Health Care for just two months when the family received word she would have to find new accommodations.

“It’s a panic situation for our family right now,” Rosa McNally said. “Our No. 1 concern right now is safety.”

McNally said the family’s original goal was to have their mother placed at Madigan Estates, a larger nursing home facility also located in Houlton, but the facility was full.

Eva McNally suffers from macular degeneration and is unable to get around without a wheelchair.

Eva McNally (seated) is one of 27 residents of Gardiner Health Care in Houlton who will have to be placed in a new facility after the company announced it was closing its nursing unit. Credit: Courtesy of Rosa McNally)

“We had just got Mom situated and comfortable,” Rosa said. “She needs to be in a skilled care setting.”

The family actually learned of the impending closure while celebrating a family reunion. It was the first time her mother had left Gardiner Health Care for any sort of excursion.

“We didn’t want Mom to be scared, but she still has her wits about her, so she knew something was up,” McNally said.

Nurses at Gardiner Health Care have provided exceptional care for her mother in the short time she has been there, she said.

“Yes, we could see they were short-staffed [at Gardiner], and we could tell something bigger was going to happen, but didn’t know how big,” she said. “I try to be the eyes and ears for my mother and my siblings that live away. No matter how old you are, nobody ever wants to put the control over how your life is going to go in somebody else’s hands.”

The idea that her mother may have to be placed in a facility several hours away is not a comfortable one for McNally. A worst-case scenario would see her mother placed more than four hours away in a Portland facility.

“Even if we are fortunate enough to get her into Presque Isle, that reduces the amount of time we can spend with Mom,” she said. “We are just freaking out right now.”

The family has yet to have any meeting with officials from Gardiner Health Care on where her mother will be placed, she said.