May 28, 2024

Breakfast cut at assisted living sites

Because of anticipated state and federal budget cuts, elderly residents at some Maine assisted living facilities will no longer be served breakfast beginning on Jan. 1.

Freese’s Assisted Living in Bangor, Stearns Assisted Living in Millinocket and Merry Gardens Estates in Camden will continue to provide midday and evening meals. But residents will have to fend for themselves in the morning, said Deborah Poulton, director of residential programs at the Eastern Agency on Aging in Bangor, which contracts with the state to administer the programming, meals and personal care services at the three facilities.

A total of about 90 people live in the three facilities.

“The Legislature is going to be making some very tough decisions,” Poulton said Tuesday. “We want to be sure we can get the biggest bang for our buck when it comes to the services we provide.”

Poulton said the decision to eliminate breakfast will not in itself save a significant amount of money but will make it easier to lay off staff in the future should it become necessary.

“If we have to cut back on staff, the morning will be the safest place to do it,” she said.

The three facilities are part of a group of seven “affordable assisted living” centers in Maine developed since 1998 using state tax credits and other incentives as part of a national demonstration project. The other facilities are in Augusta, Sanford, Saco and Portland. They offer low-cost, private apartment living that residents pay for out-of-pocket. Services such as personal care, medication administration, meals, and 24-hour staff are reimbursed by MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

Poulton said the midday and evening meals are well attended, but that only about half the residents come to breakfast.

All of the apartments have kitchen facilities, Poulton emphasized, and most residents have family members who take them out to shop for food and other items. For more disabled residents without family nearby, she said, the facilities will try to enlist volunteers to help stock breakfast items.

Bangor resident Jane Helsley was among the family members notified earlier this month about the change. Her 86-year-old father, Charles Colburn, has lived at Freese’s Assisted Living for three years and takes all of his meals in the congregate dining area.

“He’ll probably be OK,” she said. “But he has never used a microwave and there’s no stove in the apartment. And it will cost him more to buy food.”

Helsley said she understands the state needs to trim spending but questioned the ethics of a situation that results in “an old person who’s worked his whole life [but] can’t even get breakfast when he’s in assisted living.”

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services is charged with eliminating about $110 million from its budget for the coming biennium. In an interview on Monday, Kathy Bubar, director of integrated services, said the department is working closely with service providers but has not completed specific proposals. The new budget will be presented to the Legislature in January.


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