Families rushed after Houlton nursing unit closed

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HOULTON, Maine — Placing a loved one in a nursing home can be a difficult and heartbreaking decision for most people.

It is not only a life-changing gesture for the patient, but it can also leave those in charge of a loved one’s care feeling guilty. And when an unplanned move occurs, it can have detrimental consequences for both parties.

Last Thursday’s announcement that Gardiner Health Care, a retirement home and specialist care facility in Houlton, was closing its 38-bed nursing unit and replacing it with a residential care wing shocked patients and their families. Now these 27 families are scrambling to find a place for their loved ones.

Rosa McNally of Houlton is one such person. Her 84-year-old mother, Eva McNally, had been a resident of Gardiner Health Care for just two months when the family learned she would have to find new accommodation.

“It’s a panic situation for our family right now,” Rosa McNally said. “Our #1 concern right now is safety.”

McNally said the family’s initial goal was to place their mother in Madigan Estates, a larger retirement home also in Houlton, but the facility was full.

Eva McNally suffers from macular degeneration and is unable to get around without a wheelchair.

Eva McNally (seated) is one of 27 residents at Gardiner Health Care in Houlton who will need to be placed in a new facility after the company announced it was closing its nursing unit. Credit: Courtesy of Rosa McNally)

“We had just made Mom comfortable and comfortable,” Rosa said. “She needs to be in a skilled care facility.”

The family actually learned of the impending closure while celebrating a family reunion. It was the first time her mother had left Gardiner Health Care for any excursion.

“We didn’t want mom to be scared, but she still had her spirits up, so she knew something was wrong,” McNally said.

Gardiner Health Care nurses provided exceptional care to her mother during the short time she was there, she said.

“Yes, we could see that they were understaffed [at Gardiner], and we could tell something bigger was going to happen, but we didn’t know how big,” she said. “I try to be the eyes and ears of my mother and my siblings who live elsewhere. No matter how old you are, no one ever wants to put control over how your life will unfold into someone else’s hands.

The thought of his mother having to be placed in a facility several hours away is not comfortable for McNally. Worst-case scenario, her mother would be placed more than four hours away in a facility in Portland.

“Even though we’re lucky to have her on Almost Isle, it cuts into the time we can spend with mom,” she said. “We’re just freaking out right now.”

The family has not yet had a meeting with officials from Gardiner Health Care about where her mother will be placed, she said.

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