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May 23, 2024

Despite aging population, Maine nursing homes are closing at far higher rate than elsewhere

street and sign on pole File Photo / Courtesy, Island Nursing Home The Island Nursing Home on Deer Isle closed in 2021 because of staffing shortages. Despite attempts to reopen and shows of public support like this one, the facility was shuttered permanently last year and may soon be converted into an apartment complex.
Learn about aging-related issues at the Mainebiz Health Care Forum.
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Nursing homes in Maine have been closing at roughly four times the national rate, a new study says — a potentially dangerous trend for a state with the oldest population in the U.S.

A report published May 14 by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston shows that between 2010 and 2023, nearly 15% of nursing homes across New England permanently closed. Among the six states, Maine recorded the highest percentage of closures, 19%, representing dozens of residential care facilities that have shut their doors.

During the same period, 5% of nursing homes in the U.S. closed, according to the analysis.

The dilemma is that New England and especially Maine are the locations of large and growing numbers of the very people who may require nursing home care.

Mainers currently have the oldest median age, 44, among residents of any state. The percentage of Maine residents over age 75 in 2022 was 9.2%, by far the highest ratio in New England, the report shows.

And, not surprisingly, the need for nursing home care increases with age.

“In the United States and New England, the 85-and-older cohort is the fastest growing segment of the population,” Riley Sullivan, an analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, wrote in the report. “This group is also the most likely to rely on long-term care options, including nursing homes.”

At the same time, however, Mainers and residents of other states are living longer in their own homes.

"Due in part to increasing longevity, improvements in the health of older adults, and personal and family preferences, more older residents are remaining in their homes, or 'aging in place,'" Sullivan wrote.

While not always possible, that's a good alternative to nursing home care.

Megan Walton, CEO of the Southern Maine Agency on Aging, reviewed the report and told Mainebiz, "The closure of nursing homes in Maine is staggering and creates incredible strain on our health care and long-term care systems.

Courtesy photo
Megan Walton, Southern Maine Agency on Aging

"The report is also illustrative of how services for older adults are evolving over time. According to AARP, over 75% of older adults would prefer to age in their own homes. Allowing them to do so saves money both for their families and for taxpayers.

"The home will continue to expand as the 'hub' for health care and older adult care. Here in Maine, our Agencies on Aging have been working for over 50 years to build stronger local supports so that tens of thousands of people can age well at home and in their own communities."

On June 5, Walton will lead the 2024 Mainebiz Health Care Forum, a public discussion where she and other experts will examine "The Challenges & Opportunities of Older Adult Health in Maine." The forum is scheduled for 7:30-10:30 a.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport.

More information about the forum and registration details are available here.

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