Sudden Closure of Prime Care Leaves Patients Without Local Service

The darkened windows and covered door of the Prime Care office in Calais are a troubling sign for the hundreds of patients around Washington County that utilized the medical equipment supply and service center. The office was closed with little warning to patients and its managers. (Photo by Lura Jackson)

By Lura Jackson

 

The residents of Washington County will no longer be able to obtain medical equipment or service from Prime Care in Calais as the branch was closed with very short notice to both its patients and its managers. The decision to close the location – made effective on April 1st – followed a sale of the company to HCS Medical Equipment of New Hampshire.

The news came as a particular shock to manager Rod Tirrell and his mother, Nancy Gillis-Grant, who served as the branch’s Clinical Nurse Specialist. The duo have been operating Prime Care in Calais for five years, though it has been a total of 27 years that they’ve been providing similar services under different owners.

“It was sudden, unexpected, and it really left us all bewildered,” Gillis-Grant said. 

Tirrell explained that they had been notified about ten days or so in advance of the sale, but at that time, “We were under the impression that things were going to continue as they always have. In fact, we shared that with our patients. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it went.”

According to Tirrell, HCS determined that the Calais branch was “not viable” and that it would therefore not be taking on the patients that had been previously serviced by Prime Care.

As a result of the closure of the Calais Prime Care, all of the patients that were renting equipment from the location are now owners of that equipment as it has been legally abandoned. However, they will not be able to receive local service, and in many cases, they will need to travel to Ellsworth or Bangor.

“The oxygen patients are the ones that concern us,” Tirrell said. “They need service. We have around eighty oxygen patients in our service area.” Another vulnerable category is that of CPAP patients. “Not that it’s life-sustaining like it is with oxygen, but they will need ongoing supplies. There are about sixty of them, and growing.” The recent expansion of Calais Regional Hospital’s Pulmonology Department had led to a burgeoning partnership of care between Dr. Francis Lee and Prime Care, with more patients receiving equipment useful for controlling chronic breathing conditions.

The closure of Prime Care follows the closure of Calais’s Coastal Med Tech office, which occurred within the past few months. “I thought it was a great thing when my competitor left – not realizing that we were next,” Tirrell said.

Perhaps the biggest factor in the closure of both Prime Care and Coastal Med Tech, Tirrell explained, was a 75 percent cut to Medicare reimbursement in January of 2016. “At that point in time, we really thought, ‘that’s it, we’re done,’” Tirrell said. “But our owner found a way. We doubled our volume.”  

The number of patients increased again when Coastal Med Tech closed. “Right up until closing, it was the busiest we’d ever been by far. I was requesting more help. But it wasn’t in the cards,” Tirrell said.

“The bottom line is that we may not have been as profitable as some of the other locations, and it’s due to Medicare and Mainecare cuts – but we did have the patient base to sustain our store,” Gillis-Grant said.

For the mother and son couple, who see their former patients every day in the community, the experience has been difficult. “It’s brought us to tears sometimes. We had a patient of 14 years contact us on Facebook, asking, ‘What am I going to do?’ I’ve been doing this 27 years and I don’t have an answer for her,” Tirrell said.

Both Tirrell and Gillis-Grant will be remaining in the community. Tirrell is now seeking full-time employment, while Gillis-Grant, who is semi-retired, is looking for a position that can utilize her LPN certification.

Throughout the years, it has been the relationship with their patients that has mattered most. “We’ve enjoyed every patient we’ve ever had,” Gillis-Grant said. “They’ve been as good to us as we’ve been to them.”

“The thing we really want to get across is ‘Thank you’,” Tirrell expressed to the community.