Gov. Janet Mills’ administration recently announced it is awarding Maine hospitals and long-term care facilities $146 million to support workforce retention and recruitment efforts.
The announcement came days before three nursing homes in the state announced they will close this fall. The Country Manor Nursing Home in Coopers Mills, the Somerset Rehabilitation and Living Center in Bingham and the Island Nursing Home in Deer Isle all recently announced plans to close, some as soon as October, as a result of a number of factors, including staffing shortages.
Maine’s healthcare workforce shortage has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as concerns Mills’ vaccine mandate will lead medical professionals to quit their jobs. However, the problem preceded the pandemic. A 2017 study conducted by the University of Southern Maine School of Nursing projected a shortage of 3,200 registered nurses in the state by 2025.
The most recent supplemental budget, passed by the legislature and signed by Mills in March, contained several funding provisions designed to address these shortages. The budget required the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to appropriate $20 million from the General Fund, along with federal matching funds, to be put toward increased reimbursement rates to nursing facilities. The increased rates must remain in place until the end of the year.
The budget also required DHHS to allocate $12.5 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and distribute 70% to nursing facilities and 30% to certain private nonmedical institutions. It further required federal funds, rather than money from the General Fund, be used to help nursing facilities when possible.
These budgetary items were part of the round of funding recently announced by Mills. The $146 million, which will be distributed by DHHS beginning this month, is a mix of state and federal funds. It contains $30 million in spending from the General Fund to be distributed to nursing and residential care facilities to address workforce issues by “retaining current staff or hiring new vaccinated staff.”
Mills’ office also announced DHHS will issue $23 million, including $5.4 million from the General Fund, for one-time supplemental payments to hospitals. DHHS will begin issuing the money, which they say can be used to address workforce issues, this fall. This funding was also provided for in the supplemental budget.
DHHS previously allocated $10 million in supplemental payments to hospitals and $20 million to nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and other congregate care facilities in the form of temporary MaineCare rate increases. Those increases, which were intended to help medical facilities prepare for and respond to COVID-19, expired on May 31, 2020.
In December of 2020, DHHS awarded $5.1 million in grants to 53 healthcare organizations across the state. Funding for the grants came from the CARES Act’s Coronavirus Relief Funds. Healthcare organizations were eligible to receive up to $100,000 in financial relief to address business disruptions due to COVID-19 if they served MaineCare members in 2020.
DHHS distributed $25 million in remaining Coronavirus Relief Funds earlier this year. In May, DHHS announced it would distribute the remaining funds to medical facilities that had documented pandemic-related financial losses between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021.
In August, DHHS announced it had awarded $12.5 million to 14 hospitals and $12.5 million to 96 long-term care facilities “based on demonstrated losses and, for long-term care facilities, licensed beds.” The amount awarded ranged from $2,861 to $1,054,021, with an average award per facility of $227,272.
DHHS said 56% of eligible organizations applied for these grants and 69% of facilities that applied qualified for payments. They also said that additional facilities that did not receive funding had their losses offset by other federal and state programs, such as the Provider Relief Fund, Paycheck Protection Program, and the Maine Economic Recovery Grants.
Some healthcare facilities in the state have also received funds directly from the federal government. Over 2,000 healthcare providers in Maine have received just over $660 million from the federal government’s Provider Relief Fund. The fund, which is designed to support healthcare providers facing the COVID-19 pandemic, has received $186.5 billion in funding from multiple pieces of federal legislation, including the CARES Act, the American Rescue Plan Act, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.
In total, healthcare businesses have received approximately 29% of Maine’s Coronavirus Relief Funds. Much of that came in the form of personal protective equipment (PPE), which was purchased by the state and stockpiled by the Maine Emergency Management Agency and the Maine Centers for DIsease Control and Prevention. The PPE was then distributed to nursing homes, hospitals, and other long-term care facilities.