Nursing home petition nets 1,500 signatures

STONINGTON — In less than three weeks, a group of volunteer citizens has collected more than 1,500 signatures from Deer Isle and Blue Hill Peninsula communities on a petition titled “Save The Island Nursing Home,” according to a press release issued by Linda Nelson, economic and community development director for the town of Stonington.

The petition seeks to keep skilled nursing care local and demands changes in leadership and direction for the Island Nursing Home (INH) on Deer Isle, which has been closed since October 2021. Approximately 40 percent of the signatures come from the five towns on the Blue Hill Peninsula also served by the facility: Sedgwick, Brooksville, Brooklin, Penobscot and Blue Hill.

The petitions were delivered to the Stonington Town Hall Aug. 22, along with a note requesting copies be forwarded to the six members of the INH Board and its legal representatives; town officials throughout the area; and state officials at the Department of Human Services and in the Governor’s Office. The delivery of the petitions preceded a public meeting held Monday evening, Aug. 22, that was called by the Stonington Select Board to review the situation with INH board members.

More than a dozen petitioners collected signatures over 18 days, mostly at locations in Deer Isle, Stonington and Blue Hill.

The petition demands immediate action from the INH Board on three points: stopping the process of selling INH skilled nursing bed licenses; providing complete and public financial disclosure; and calling for the resignation of the current board members to “enable reconstitution of the board membership.” The petition also states that those signing pledge to forego financial contributions until “proper vetting and reconstitution” of the board takes place.

“Reconstitution of the board is critical because the community has lost trust in the current board and reopening the facility wholly depends upon community support and engagement,” said Gwyn Murray, a Deer Isle resident who volunteered with the petition effort and who served on a nursing home task force last year to study how to reopen. “There are structural and trust problems with how the INH Board has been proceeding now for more than a year. These can’t be fixed with the type of ad hoc approaches to individuals the board has been conducting so far.”

“What we’re really calling for is a ‘peaceful transfer of power,’” said Marcia Myers, a Deer Isle resident who coordinated the petition campaign. “We realize the current members can’t all resign at once. We urge them to identify and bring on an interim board who can search for new leaders with the skills needed for the INH to reopen.”

Dan Cashman, a spokesperson for INH, sent out a press release on Aug. 22 announcing the board was seeking new members. Cashman said interested parties should contact INH Board member Skip Greenlaw at [email protected] or 460-1260.

“Everyone realizes the lack of qualified staffing and insufficient state reimbursements for care are bigger than us locally and very difficult and perhaps impossible to solve,” Nelson said. “The petitions delivered to us this morning demonstrate there is a community will that sets us apart from other places and can be used to attempt new solutions to these larger problems.”

The press release stated that at the time the petitions were finalized, the INH Board had continued to refuse to share requested financial information; to proactively schedule further community meetings to disclose the status of staffing, funding and housing plans and to seek support; or to conduct an area needs assessment.

“Without knowing the current financial status of INH, it is impossible to know what alternatives might be possible,” said Deborah DeWitt, former board president and a retired certified public accountant. “It would help to have a paid, qualified person in place directing these efforts; but who knows if funds are available?”

“This is historic, I have never seen this many signatures for a local issue. We’re grateful the state worked with the board to achieve a surprising one-year extension of the Medicare skilled nursing bed licenses,” said Kathleen Billings, Stonington’s town manager. “But the fact that the board seems to be taking no actions toward fundraising or housing indicates to us that their plan remains, as they stated, to sell the beds and not to reopen with skilled nursing options. And that’s not good for our communities.”

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