The nonprofit operating Maine Veterans' Homes is continuing to recruit and hire additional staff, a spokesperson said.
A Maine Veterans' Home facility is seen in Bangor in this Aug. 14, 2020, file photo. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

A panel of state officials, veterans groups and others said the independent nonprofit operating the financially troubled Maine Veterans’ Homes must find a way to ensure all six facilities can reasonably stay open.

The state’s veteran population is projected to drop nearly 20 percent before the decade ends, bringing the demand for nursing care beds down with it. That’s according to a new report from a panel chartered by the Legislature last year, after two facilities in Caribou and Machias came under the threat of closure.

But the group still recommends that all six homes stay open in their existing locations, partly because there are few other alternatives for assisted living and nursing home care in Maine. In an effort to quash any concerns about possible future closures, the Legislature also reaffirmed the specific locations of all six homes in a bill signed into law last session.

The review panel has found that staffing shortages have kept facilities from being fully occupied, wages have gone up in order to attract enough workers, and Medicaid and federal Veterans Affairs reimbursements rates have not kept up with the cost of care.

The review panel recommends the implementation of a new reimbursement model or the offering of additional services to bring in more revenue for the nonprofit, which lost nearly $16 million last year. Other states draw on local funds to keep their veterans’ facilities running. The Legislature and Gov. Janet Mills directed $3.5 million to Maine Veterans’ Homes last year, and additional funds are included in the governor’s latest biennial budget proposal.

A spokesperson for Maine Veterans’ Homes said Tuesday that the nonprofit agrees with all of the review panel’s recommendations. The nonprofit is continuing to recruit and hire additional staff, the spokesperson added.

Lawmakers recently opened a separate probe into Maine Veterans’ Homes after a whistleblower questioned its accounting practices.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.