AUBURN — Mary Ainaire, 90, had to leave her home this summer and move to Clover Health Care assisted living.
“I kept falling down at home. I lived alone. I couldn't get up," she said. "Sometimes my legs gave out.”
Linda DeStefano, 69, suffered a stroke a few years ago. “I have no use of my hands. They help get me dressed,” DeStefano said.
A diabetic, she needs five shots a day. “I can't give it to myself,” she said. “It's an awful feeling to be my age and to have nowhere to go if this thing goes through,” DeStefano said. “I go to bed every night and pray like the devil.”
DeStefano is talking about a Medicaid cut in Gov. Paul LePage's budget that would eliminate funding for assisted-living programs, called private non-medical institutions, on July 1.
That would mean at Clover Health Care's program, 135 people, including Ainaire and DeStefano, would have to leave. Statewide, the cut would end funding for 4,291 seniors in assisted-living programs, and several thousand more younger, disabled people.
LePage has said Maine's Medicaid spending is too much for the state to afford. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation study, 27 percent of Mainers are enrolled in Medicaid, compared to 20 percent nationally. LePage wants to kick thousands out of Medicaid, and cut Medicaid programs the federal government considers optional. Assisted living is one of those optional programs.
Legislative appropriations committee member Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said the assisted living cut “is shocking. On July 1, there's no plan what happens to these people,” she said. “These cuts are not acceptable.”
Assisted living is less expensive than nursing homes, Rotundo said, adding the program keeps many out of nursing homes.
Speaking for the LePage administration, Maine Department of Health and Human Services spokesman John Martins said Tuesday the federal government has expressed concern that the assisted-living program is not a model it endorses for Medicaid.
“They have a variety of concerns, including Maine using Medicaid dollars to pay for room and board. Room and board is not considered a medical service, and is not eligible for federal matching funds,” he said.
Asked what happens to the thousands of seniors July 1, Martins said, “The governor has spoken about wanting to work with the Maine Housing Authority, since the housing component is at the core” of the assisted-living issue.
After the budget is passed, LePage plans to set aside nearly $40 million “to address areas of need. We look forward to working with the Legislature to resolve the PNMI issue,” Martins said.
That's not enough reassurance for some, since the assisted-living program alone costs Maine $47.6 million a year; and these seniors need more than housing, they need care, advocates said.
Clover Health Care has sent letters to families informing them of the proposed cut.
“What would happen July 1 is there'd be no payment, these residents wouldn't be able to pay their rent,” said Clover social worker Christine Foss. The private cost is $129 a day. Except for $70 a month, residents don't get their Social Security checks, that money goes to cover the costs. Medicaid picks up the rest.
Many of the assisted-living residents are elderly suffering from things like dementia and Alzheimer's, and need help with medications. “Nobody moves into assisted living because they want to. They need the help,” Foss said.
Nancy Dumas, 55, of Lewiston, said she is scared.
Her mother, 84, has Alzheimer's and is at Clover. “We kept her at home as long as we could. She requires 24-hour care,” Dumas said.
Dumas said she understands welfare and Medicaid programs need to be cut, but cuts that target the elderly “are shocking and scary.”
If her mother has to leave Clover, “I would be forced to quit my job and take care of her.”
Auburn mayor's grandmother one of those at risk by cuts
AUBURN — Clover Health Care assisted-living residents worried that Gov. Paul LePage's Medicaid cuts would mean they'll have to leave include Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte's grandmother, Mary Charpentier.
Charpentier, 79, has narcolepsy and a nerve condition. “I could fall asleep while I was talking to you,” Charpentier said. “The other night I fell on my head.” She was in a chair and got too close to the edge. “I rang for help.”
If his grandmother had to move, “my mom or her sister would need to find a way to care for her,” LaBonte said.
If the cut happens, Clover residents said they would be homeless or have to go to nursing homes.
Evelyn Powers, 71, has multiple sclerosis. “My hands, I can't dress myself,” she said.
Wheelchair-bound Robert Weston, 65, who has epilepsy and diabetes and is going blind, kept falling when he lived alone. “Once they found me in the bathroom, my eye blackened. I'd pass right out.”
Francis Peters, 90, is disabled but functioning properly with the help he gets at Clover. If the program ends, he says he has no home to go to.
“I'd like to ask the governor to swap places with me, see if he can manage on what we do,” Peters said.