The future of long-term care in Maine Part 2

FARMINGTON, Maine (WABI) - Who will care for you when you're elderly and frail? That's a question many of us will have to answer eventually.

Historically, many have relied on loved ones to look after them, but now, there's an increasing number of seniors relying on the kindness of strangers to help them near the end of life.

Looking at the rising number of elderly in our state and the shrinking number of younger people available to care for them, it's clear we're heading for a shortage of caregivers.

Regardless of where a senior is placed, whether it be a nursing home or assisted living facility, everyone is looking for quality care.

"It's like being home," said resident Nikki Adams. "You know, it's not like being at a strange place. There's so many things that go along with what we do at home. People come and visit, and we can go out if we are with somebody and we walk around and have meals together."

"I'm very content here. I really like my room. I enjoy it, and it's comfortable. All my friends are here," said resident, Gerry Edgar.

Since 1926, the folks at the Pierce House in Farmington have been assisting and providing care to area seniors.

"This is a way of life. This isn't just a job for any of us." explained Darlene Mooar of The Pierce House.

This sixteen bed facility employs 25 full time experienced staff whose main goal is to provide long-term care with a hometown feel.

"When basic needs are met and people are happy and content, it's just easier to do what we have to do," said Mooar.

In a time when many nursing homes and assisted living facilities are hurting financially, even closing, others are going strong.

For the staff at the Pierce House, their motto is to take care of their clients and success will follow.

"It takes a while to settle in, and the people around you are what makes the difference. The people that can answer your questions and guide you and comfort you, and we love them."

Darlene Mooar serves as house administrator. She started her career in long-term care as a teenager in a nursing home.

She says the biggest difference between the two types of senior housing centers around the services provided.

Those in nursing homes typically require around the clock medical care.

Seniors living in assisted living generally require custodial care. She says while times have changed, the staff at the Pierce House is not doing things much different.

"The technology has certainly changed, but taking care of people is timeless," explained Mooar. "It doesn't age. The way we took care of people years ago with our hands on them and helping them is still what we do here today."

As for payment, the Pierce House is a non-profit that funds its cost of operation from its own endowment.

They also participate in a MaineCare Reimbursed Program. Eligibility is determined by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

"If you're a Medicaid resident in this facility, you get a private room with a private bathroom, and you couldn't walk through this facility and pick out who is Medicaid and who is private pay. Residents who have Medicaid still contribute to their cost of care, and that is established by the state, and so they don't get it for nothing, they really contribute themselves."

Mooar says if a resident were unable to contribute to the cost, the board would make sure they would be able to stay.

According to a recent study by the Muskie School of Private Service, assisted living has actually saved the state money in recent years, as it is about half the cost of nursing home care.

However, the demand keeps getting bigger. A recent survey shows at least 25 people could be on a waiting list at a facility for up to six months.

Back at the Pierce House, Mooar says they do their best to get everyone in to allow them to age in place.

"When I see them walk through the house and they are turning around and waving to their family, I'm, all right, I got this, you know, you feel that, and it's an amazing gift to be able to manage that type of situation in a person's life because it is a change," said Mooar.

And with the reduction of nursing home beds, and the high consumer satisfaction of Residential Care or Assisted Living, Mooar says she hopes the industry will continue to grow.

"I would like to see more opportunities like this," said Moore. "It does take a commitment and it is 365 days a year, but it is so profoundly rewarding."