DEER ISLE — The Island Nursing Home is officially empty — of residents that is. There are still a couple of employees working to handle paperwork and other issues.
That was some of the news from two members of the Island Nursing Home Task Force: Chairman Dr. Sam Harrington and Vice Chairwoman Rep. Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington).
The nursing home, which closed due to a lack of staff, moved its last resident Oct. 22.
On Nov. 4, Harrington and McDonald updated members of the Deer Isle Select Board, who had questions.
“So, what are they doing up there?” Select Board member Joe Brown asked.
“We don’t know,” McDonald quipped. There is a social worker who’s keeping in touch with residents and another staffer, Lori Morey, is in the building handling medical records and other paperwork. “I don’t know how long that will go on.”
Select Board members asked whether the home’s executive director, Matthew Trombley, had left. He has.
INH has temporarily frozen its license, which expires in October 2022. McDonald said there is a process to extend the license.
Deer Isle Town Manager Jim Fisher said, “Before they hire a new executive director, they need to decide if they’re going to reopen as a nursing home.”
“An executive director’s license is essentially what runs the nursing home,” McDonald said. “It needs to be someone dedicated to the island.”
Harrington said Heidi Gillen might serve as the interim executive director.
“She’s been there a long time,” Harrington said. “She’s done every job. She was designated to be the successor for Matthew when the board realized Matthew wasn’t going to be there forever.”
One complaint that many community members have expressed is what they see as late notice about the nursing home’s closure. The nursing home announced the October closure in late August.
To that end, McDonald and state Sen. Louie Luchini (D-Hancock County) are co-sponsoring a bill that will require more transparency around nursing homes closures.
“I agree there should have been a lot more transparency,” McDonald said. “I wish they had reached out sooner. I wish that previous to it getting that dire, they had reached out to the community.”
“Transparency was nothing up there,” said Select Board Chairman Ron Eaton. “Ticks me off.”
A shortage of housing on the island was one of the issues cited in the staffing shortage.
“It would be ideal to have local staff, but if there’s nowhere for them to live — that’s what we run into,” McDonald said. “So, one of the things we have to look at, we may have to look at foreign nursing.”
INH has looked into hiring nurses from the Philippines.
“I don’t have any doubt that will be the way to do it,” said Brown, whose family has run a plumbing and heating business on the island for over 70 years. “Maybe downsizing the operation so you don’t have to have as many staff to run it. If I’m running my business, I’m going to start out a little smaller.”
Fisher said housing is very important, but the median age is 55 in Deer Isle.
“That’s not an easy age to recruit someone to do a job like that,” he said.
“It’s a difficult job,” Brown added.
Harrington said it’s difficult for employees to work if they don’t know if they’ll be asked to work a double shift.
“That’s an untenable situation to be in if you have family,” he said.
“It’s a very fragile industry,” the physician said. “If you’re short one staff member, you can’t shrink your business, you have to move a patient.”
Meanwhile, INH is looking for volunteers, about 160 in total, to “adopt a resident,” according to the nursing home’s social media page.
Dede Ragot, INH’s social services director, said the goal of the program is to recruit a group of volunteers who are interested in reaching out and maintaining contact with the Island Nursing Home residents who were recently displaced and transitioned to other facilities.
“The aim of this program is to support former residents with their transition, maintain a connection with their island community, and to convey they are missed and have not been forgotten,” Ragot said.
Being a volunteer would mean committing to contacting a resident each month, whether through sending a card, calling or visiting.
“We will match volunteers and residents with similar interests through an about me profile or a specific resident can be requested,” said Ragot. “INH is hoping to find two to three volunteers (roughly 160 volunteers) for each of our former residents.”
Groups wishing to contribute cards, letters, drawings, small gifts, stamps, etc. are also welcome and would be greatly appreciated. For more information, contact Ragot at 460-2941 or [email protected]
Meanwhile, the task force is hosting an online community meeting on Monday, Nov. 15, at 5:45 p.m.
McDonald said the purpose of the meeting is to provide an update and to solicit feedback from the community. The link to attend can be found on the calendar on the town of Deer Isle’s website.