A promising partner has come forward in Calais' quest for opening a new nursing home. Sunrise Opportunities, a nonprofit organization that provides residential facilities and community support services for children and adults in Washington County, spoke with the Calais Economic and Community Development Committee about the possibilities on Friday, June 2.
"We've been looking at nursing homes," said Tom Michaud Jr., executive director of Sunrise Opportunities. He said that nursing homes are a step outside of their existing facilities because of their nature as medical institutions, with nurses on staff.
With that said, Michaud described Sunrise Opportunities as being "pretty far down the road" in understanding what is necessary to operate a nursing home and added that the organization is examining an existing nursing home in Washington County as a prospective purchase. He said that the challenges to opening a nursing home include having a medical doctor as a director, having a licensed administrator, having a pharmacist consultant, and general staff pool issues, but he added that with its hospital and local active pharmacies Calais is in a strong spot. "Being teamed with a hospital can provide overlap for the community," he added.
Councillor Mike Sherrard said that the staff that were present when the Atlantic Rehabilitation and Nursing Center facility closed in 2012 are in some cases still living in the community, providing a potential staff pool.
Councillor Artie Mingo asked about the possibility of having a combined nursing home or assisted living facility and a daycare, stating "it's been a huge success" in areas that have tried it. Michaud agreed and said, "We're very strongly poised to do that because of our Washington County Children's Program." Michaud said that Sunrise Opportunities had been previously approached to bring the children's program to Calais, but it had not yet been able to do so. "I think it would be the best of both worlds." Additionally, Sunrise Opportunities recently acquired Families United, which Michaud said is doing very well. "It's a place of magic -- I could spend all day there, every day." Between the two program models, Michaud felt strongly that combining elderly and youth care would be an option.
Asked how large the prospective Calais nursing home facility might be, Michaud said that 100 beds would be out of the question but that the existing facility that they are looking to acquire has 28 beds, and he expressed that a comparable size could be achievable.
"We could be a magnet to the area," said City Manager Jim Porter. The committee members present expressed their enthusiasm for the proposal and asked what is needed to get the ball rolling.
"The biggest hurdles right now are beds and a facility," said Michaud. He said that Sunrise Opportunities has a plot of land on Franklin Street in Calais that it has recently expanded, making a "really nice footprint." Regarding beds, Porter said that two years ago bed rights cost between $15,000 and $20,000.
Michaud described the frustration Sunrise Opportunities has recently experienced in finding a facility that would take one of their existing clients. He said that the client has been in need of a nursing home for a month but because he requires certain medications the nursing homes in the area refuse to accept him due to behavioral concerns. "In my world, we deal with challenging behavioral issues all the time. I think my agency could bring experience to the table that would help with that. We could get more acceptance for local clients," he said.
"I've had personal experiences recently in nursing homes, good ones and bad. It's really shown us that there is a better way in nursing homes than what some for‑profit models are doing." Michaud described one nursing home that immediately smelled of turnips upon entering and had an unpleasant staff. Another "smelled like my house" and had a pleasant staff. "I want to be a part of a nursing home that makes you proud."
Research by the city and Sunrise Opportunities into the possibility of opening a nursing home in Calais will be continuing.