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Maine Veterans' Homes seeks state funding amid ongoing shortfall

The entrance to the Maine Veterans Homes facility in Scarborough, a 125-bed retirement home for veterans and their spouses.
Nick Schroeder
The entrance to the Maine Veterans' Homes facility in Scarborough, a 125-bed retirement home for veterans and their spouses.

The nonprofit that operates Maine Veterans' Homes is facing another multimillion-dollar shortfall this year. But a bipartisan group of lawmakers wants the state to provide ongoing funding to stabilize the nursing home network.

Sharon Fusco, the CEO of Maine Veterans' Homes, told state lawmakers on Tuesday that the organization expects to be short $11.7 million this year from low MaineCare reimbursement rates alone. An annual report filed with the Legislature's Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee said the organization experienced a total loss of $17.1 million in fiscal year 2023.

Maine Veterans' Homes was able to bring in more revenues this year, in part by filling more vacant beds. But Fusco told committee members that the organization also faced continued high labor costs, both to pay temporary workers filling vacant positions and for increased wages aimed at recruiting and retaining permanent workers.

"Since the start of the pandemic, we have had to dip into our capital reserves and draw over $18 million to cover operating losses," Fusco said. "This is unsustainable. At our current spend rate, we will be out of reserves within 36 months."

In recent years, state lawmakers have provided several million dollars to prevent the closure of two of the six Maine Veterans' Homes, in Caribou and Machias.

Fusco was testifying in support of a bipartisan bill, LD 2217, that proposes spending $3.1 million from the current state budget and higher amounts in future years, depending on cost-of-living increases. The bill has seven Democratic and three Republican co-sponsors.

Democratic Senate President Troy Jackson of Allagash, the lead sponsor, told his colleagues that the Legislature made a commitment when it created the Maine Veterans' Homes more than 40 years ago and failure to provide annual funding would be breaking that commitment.

"I intend to see that that commitment is upheld and I am hoping that all of you feel the same," Jackson said. "One-time payouts will not work. Our veterans need annual funding that adequately covers the costs of their care. We have a moral obligation to ensure that they receive it."

If endorsed by the committee, the request would need to receive funding in the supplemental budget now pending with the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.

"Simply put we have a moral obligation to our veterans to provide them with the care they deserve," said Sen. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, a retired command chief master sergeant with the Maine Air National Guard. "Maine Veterans' Homes needs these funds to continue that care. It is up to us to pass LD 2217 and make sure it is fully funded."

According to the annual report from Maine Veterans' Homes, the facility served 791 veterans and 214 family members in fiscal year 2023. The organization operates facilities in Augusta, Bangor, Caribou, Machias, Scarborough and South Paris.