BELFAST — Sweetser intends to close its group homes in Belfast and Bangor by the end of the year, according to a July 8 press release. The closure will impact about six people in Belfast, where it has only one group home housing two clients, Sweetser President Jayne Van Bramer said.

Since Sweetser took over a Bangor group home serving clients with intellectual disabilities in 2017, it has not made enough money each year to sustain the program, she said. The Belfast group home was opened earlier this year.

Sweetser had not previously operated group homes for those with intellectual disabilities before the state asked it to take over the Bangor group home “temporarily” over four years ago, she said. Since then, it has not been able to make the program financially feasible for the organization.

“It’s at the point now where I can’t risk the entire Sweetser organization, our core services, the nearly 20,000 people we serve every year, for one program that serves 45 individuals and operates significantly in the red,” Van Bramer said. “We’re not talking about a couple of hundred thousand; we’re taking about a couple of million dollars every year. It is a significant loss to us.”

While the state has increased reimbursement rates for caregivers and agencies have received some COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government, it is not enough to sustain the organization’s group home program.

Other contributing factors are the yearly minimum wage increases and competition for direct care workers, along with other issues, Van Bramer said.

The company will continue to operate its adult and child behavioral health homes, adult community integration services, school-based services, mobile crisis units and adult and child residential crisis units in Rockland and Rockport, she said.

The organization is looking into expansion opportunities but did not go into detail about what those might be. “There will continue to be really a plethora of services available on the Belfast campus and we’re looking at some expansion opportunities, at this point,” Van Bramer said, “so we are committed to staying in that community.”

The company will close its group home program by the end of this year but she thinks it is enough time to work with state and private agencies to transition clients into other services.

“We really do have five or six months, that’s a large runway to make this transition, it gives us really plenty of time to make sure that we can find similar services to make these external placements,” Van Bramer said.

The company is working with state and outside agencies to help the impacted employees transition into other employment or to fill jobs within the company, but Van Bramer thinks the employees will be able to find other work, she said. Sweetser notified impacted employees late last week and will continue to meet with them to discuss the decision.

“I really do have full confidence that in this current job market, (with) the high quality of our staff, … our employees will be in demand,” she said.