DEER ISLE — The Deer Isle-Stonington community is upset and frustrated with the impending closure of the Island Nursing Home (INH), which it helped build in the early ’80s, as well as what is perceived to be a lack of communication from the nursing home’s board of directors and administration.
INH announced last month it would close Oct. 26 due to lack of staffing.
There was no one representing INH in a community forum that Stonington businessman Skip Greenlaw had organized for Sept. 15 via the online teleconferencing platform Zoom. There were around 45 to 50 people in attendance.
Greenlaw said that the INH board asked board President Ronda Dodge not to attend because “they think there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about the closing.”
However, Greenlaw has since asked the nursing home board of directors to reconsider meeting with the community and the board has agreed.
To that end, Greenlaw has arranged another community forum for Wednesday, Sept. 29, from 6 to 8 p.m. via Zoom. The Zoom link can be found on townofdeerisle.org. Click on “Island Nursing Home Community Forum.”
One island resident expressed her frustration at the Sept. 15 forum.
“The lack of involvement from the nursing home is a huge problem,” said Bette Kral of Deer Isle. “It seems like their end result is, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ They’ve decided it’s closing. My mother was there. My mother died there in December, so this is close to home for me. They’re not allowing people to speak. They aren’t speaking. I know I’m not alone in that thinking.”
“I find it very concerning that the board has asked the president not to be part of the meeting that concerns saving the nursing home,” Kral said.
“I hear what you’re saying,” Greenlaw replied. “I’m very disappointed. We’ve had a lot of good suggestions tonight, which I will pass on.”
“It’s a problem that they are not present,” said Kral.
“Ronda is working very, very hard,” said Greenlaw. “She’s trying to give it all she can.”
Others agreed with Kral’s sentiment.
“I feel this is just a huge step backward, Ronda not being here,” said Robin Alden of Stonington. “This is such a momentous event for the community that it has to be something done collaboratively and with inclusion. I understand the board is the one that runs the nonprofit. But there are so many resources embodied in this group here and so many resources not on this call.”
Alden said she wants board members to “open their hearts and their ranks to the resources here that want the facility to be available on the island.”
“This isn’t about clubbing them over the head for what’s happened,” Alden said. “We do have resources to make this go forward in a really constructive way.”
Deer Isle resident Marshall Kaiser asked Greenlaw what challenges were present back in the ’80s when INH was founded.
“The challenge back then — we were given the land very generously by Barter Lumber and the Billings family. We were in a recession,” said Greenlaw. A bank had backed out of a $1.2 million construction loan, offering $600,000 instead. So, community members raised the other $600,000.
“We opened Feb. 14, 1982,” Greenlaw said. “The problem was it didn’t fill up very quickly.”
INH had filled out a certificate of need with the state for a full facility. “We had to go back to the state and ask for additional funding.”
“We hired people very quickly [in 1982],” said Greenlaw. “We’re in a far different economy now than we were then. We were told that when doctors and nurses in the baby-boom generation got older we were going to have a shortage of doctors and nurses. I think this is one of the results and I think the other result is the pandemic. I think a lot of people are burnt out from the experiences they had.”
“The issue is how do we go about finding nurses to staff the facility,” said Greenlaw. “I think everyone is having the same problem. There are nine nursing homes in Maine closing. I think everyone is having a hard time with employment. I don’t know what else to say. I don’t think it’s money and I think if it was money we could go out and raise whatever we needed to keep this thing going.”
Nancy Violette, the former director of nursing at INH, said she’d heard the vaccine mandate for health care workers is part of the issue. Violette retired six years ago and is still in contact with some personnel.
Governor Janet Mills announced earlier this month that the state would begin enforcing the COVID-19 vaccination requirement for health care workers on Oct. 29. The enforcement was to begin Oct. 1 but was extended.
“Ronda [Dodge] has told me there are six staff who have not been vaccinated,” Greenlaw replied. “She doesn’t know if that will be an issue or not.”
Island resident Hillary Hadden said her daughter is a registered nurse at INH and the vaccine mandate is an issue. “Yet the staff has been told visitors won’t be required to be vaccinated.”
“The fact that the board is not a published group with names,” said Hadden. “I thought that was strange. I think the board needs to be transparent as well.”
Many non-profit organizations list the names of their board members on the entity’s website. INH’s board members once were listed by name but aren’t any longer.
Violette said staffing is the problem and that contract workers are the ones having trouble finding housing.
“One of the biggest problems people are having in terms of employment is housing,” Greenlaw said.
Greenlaw recalled a conversation with real estate broker Morgan Eaton, who owns the Island Agency. “Morgan told me she’s sold 10 houses on the island sight unseen.”
“I spoke with a member of the board who told me that the nursing home is closing voluntarily, if you will, because of the inadequate staff and they’re doing that rather than try and stay open and work short-staffed and have DHS take away licensure and there is a goal to possibly reopen once new administration is in there,” Violette said.
Greenlaw elaborated on Violette’s information.
“What I know, and I’m not the final authority on this, Medicare and Medicaid have certain regulations. If there was not sufficient staff, we would lose payment for the residents and would ultimately lose our license,” Greenlaw said. “As I understand it, they have put the license in some type of situation where it can be reinstated as late as 2023 when we have adequate staff.”
Charlie Osborn of Deer Isle asked whether the board had considered having the facility be acquired by a for-profit company. “It may be time to look into that, and I just wonder if the board has taken that look,” Osborn said.
Another concerned citizen asked when contract staff became a part of the nursing home.
“How did we get to a point where we had to hire people from away?”
“We didn’t have any contract staff when I was the director of nursing there,” said Violette. “I left in 2014. Marc Plourde [former executive director] left a year later. Over the past six or seven years, it’s been a revolving door of directors of nursing and administrators. I think that’s been difficult for staff to deal with all of that. It’s been a rough six or seven years. Of course the pandemic hasn’t made it easy on anyone.”
“We always had a cyclic shortage of staff,” Violette said. “When summer would roll around, CNAs would decide they wanted to work per diem because they’d have an opportunity to work as a sternman and make a lot more money. Most of the time we did OK with that. People who had to stay late got time and a half.”
Violette also advised one of the perks of being contract staff is being able to travel. “The contract staff travel, and they move on.”
Another resident said INH was once recognized as a “very positive place to work.
“The intangibles are far more important frankly than the pay and the benefits. I would encourage us to look hard at the current management and the culture.”