Narraguagus Bay Health Care Administrator Robert Hemenway (left) chats with resident Judith Blyther while staff member Tammy Morehead, LPN, performs a quick medical check. The facility recently earned a zero-deficiency rating from the state. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY JOHANNA S. BILLINGS

Nursing home improving under consistent leadership

MILBRIDGE — When Robert Hemenway interviewed for his current position at Narraguagus Bay Health Care, he was told he would be the 26th administrator in as many years.

When he was offered the job in November 2017, he accepted, with plans to do something previous administrators had not — stick around.

In fact, he hopes to own the place someday.

“We’re working together on that,” said the current owner, Steve Weisberger, a retired Jonesport physician who bought the 58-bed nursing home and assisted living facility in 1992.

Weisberger said Hemenway’s presence has made a big difference.

“He pays a lot more attention to the day-to-day activities in the nursing home than previous administrators have,” he said.

In May, the facility achieved a milestone — zero deficiencies were reported during a state survey administered by the Maine Division of Licensing and Certification.

Such a rating is “very unusual,” said Danielle Watford, director of quality and regulatory affairs for the Maine Health Care Association, a nonprofit representing Maine’s nursing homes and residential care facilities.

Over the past 12 months, only five out of more than 100 nursing homes in the state received zero deficiencies, she said.

The state survey generally takes about a week during which the nursing home is evaluated on more than 200 different criteria from food service to staff, activities to the use of restraints.

“It’s very interesting,” Hemenway said. “They observe meal service. They talk to residents. They talk to families. They’re looking at everything.”

Among the survey requirements is a review of a percentage of patient charts, with the minimum number of charts set at 15. This means Narraguagus Bay received proportionately more scrutiny than a larger facility, Watford said.

“They basically had half their population’s [charts] reviewed,” she said.

During last year’s survey, the facility had five reported deficiencies, and a below-average rating at Ratings are based on the three most recent surveys, with the latest one weighted at 50 percent. When the results of this year’s survey are posted this fall, Narraguagus Bay’s rating will increase significantly, Watford said.

Weisberger said the positive survey results are a testament to Hemenway’s ability to work with the staff.

“We all know that staff turnover is a big cost of business,” Hemenway said. “Having that consistency, I believe, is something that has saved and will continue to save this building.”

Another challenge he faces as administrator is finances. Many nursing homes have closed since 2012.

Over the course of the past nine years, Narraguagus Bay has posted an average annual profit of about $10,000. Over the same nine-year span, it experienced annual profits as high as $100,000 and losses as big as $200,000.

“We are doing much better this year so far,” Hemenway said, adding the nursing home was $33,000 in the black so far this year.

MaineCare dictates what a facility can charge for care and does not pay for food, building maintenance or administrative costs, he said.

Hemenway said constantly changing administrators hurt the nursing home in many ways. As soon as staff would get used to an administrator, that person would leave. They would then have to learn how the new administrator wanted to do things.

He remembers introducing himself to staff.

“I said, ‘I’m going to be here pretty much the rest of my life.’ They looked and me and said ‘We’ll see’ because other people have said that.”

Weisberger said one of the ways Hemenway is suited for the job is his experience as a selectman in Winter Harbor. That work includes dealing with regulations, staffing issues and negotiations.

Hemenway moved to Maine from New Jersey in 2012. At that time, he had been working for a nursing home that was about to be sold. He and his wife, Cindy, fell in love with Maine during a vacation in Lubec.

“We wanted a change of lifestyle,” he said.

Johanna S. Billings

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Johanna S. Billings covers eastern Hancock County and western Washington County. An avid photographer, she lives in Steuben with her husband and several cats. She welcomes tips and story ideas. Email her at [email protected]

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