DEER ISLE – The Island Nursing Home is slated to close Oct. 26 due to lack of staffing and a shortage of housing for contract workers brought in from out of town to work at the facility, according to a press release issued by the nursing home’s board of directors on Monday.
After nearly 40 years, the Island Nursing Home will be closing this fall.
“For the past 10 years, it has been increasingly difficult to find qualified staff to care for our residents,” the board stated. “This has been due to a decreasing healthcare workforce, our remote location, Maine winters, and the lack of affordable housing near our facility. We introduced a variety of programs to address this challenge, but over time we were forced to rely more and more on short-term contract staffing to meet our demand.”
“Now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the national healthcare staffing crisis has reached a critical point,” the board stated. “Facilities like ours can no longer find qualified staff. For INH, it is no longer a matter of location or funding…there are simply not enough qualified staff available in a rapidly declining healthcare workforce. We have spent months exhausting every staffing resource at our disposal and beginning this fall, we will no longer be able to meet our minimum staffing requirements.
As a large employer on Deer Isle, we understand that this will have a broad impact on a community that has been incredibly supportive of our efforts to provide quality long-term care close to home. In the coming months, it will be our sole focus to find a safe and appropriate placement for each of our residents and jobs for our staff. Our expected closure date is October 26, 2021.”
“The only reason it’s closing is they can’t get staff,” said Bill MacDowell, who says he is responsible for a resident in the assisted living portion of the home who doesn’t have any surviving family. “A big part of it is the general lack of housing on Deer Isle.”
“She’ll be devastated,” MacDowell said of his friend. “She spent her life in Blue Hill.”
MacDowell, a Blue Hill resident, thinks there could be creative solutions for housing nursing home employees, such as FEMA trailers. “We’re not talking about an unlimited problem, you could solve it.”
The nursing home has 60 residents.
Brenda Gallant is executive director of the Maine Long-term Care Ombudsman program, which is tasked with ensuring that residents’ rights are protected if their facilities close and they have to move elsewhere.
“It’s my understanding that that island has been challenged by staffing,” Gallant said. “Before the pandemic, staffing has been a challenge and the pandemic has challenged the direct care worker shortage.”
“It’s very hard when any facility closes,” said Gallant. “It’s very hard on residents.”
“When a resident is discharged from a facility for any reason – a closure or any reason, the facility is required to be thoughtful about the discharge and make sure it’s a safe and appropriate discharge,” Gallant explained. “We will go in. We will talk with residents. We will talk with family members. What we want to see is that every resident’s rights are protected. Some people may want to relocate closer to other relatives. In general people want to be close to the community they came from. So our office will work with licensing and certification and the state agencies and the facilities to make sure that people have the best possible discharge plan. That’s so important. It’s important that people’s wishes be honored.”
The Island Nursing Home will reach out to nursing homes in the area to see what’s available, Gallant said. “We will do whatever we can to help.”
In 2020, 14 residents died in an outbreak of COVID-19 at the facility. The outbreak began in November 2020 and spread rapidly among the population of 62 residents and 85 staff members. All residents and 38 staff members would eventually test positive.