News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Castine Patriot, May 12, 2022 and Island Ad-Vantages, May 12, 2022 and The Weekly Packet, May 12, 2022
Island Nursing Home report: Unlikely to reopen
Board accepts conclusions on staffing, viability

by Leslie Landrigan

The Island Nursing Home’s board of directors unanimously accepted a consultant’s conclusion that it’s unlikely the building can reopen as a nursing home, according to Skip Greenlaw, INH board member.

The May 6 report by Covenant Health, made public in this week’s paper, states, “…it is unlikely that INH will be able to retain its current licenses or acquire new licenses needed to operate as a nursing home in the future.” (See the full report on pages 10 and 11).

INH board members declined to comment, Greenlaw said. “The board decided to let the report stand on its own this week and will answer questions next week,” he said in a phone interview.

Board President Ronda Dodge in an email listed current INH board members as: Tim Hoechst, Cindy Lash, Karen Vickerson, Deborah Alley, Gidget Fagerberg, Skip Greenlaw, Kim Lengert and Leon Weed.

No chance

The nursing home had closed in October due to a shortage of nursing staff, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It sent its 50-plus residents to new homes. The INH board then retained Covenant Health in December 2021 to produce a report at the end of January 2022. The report was then delayed by more than three months because of a COVID-19 outbreak at Covenant, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit health system.

Covenant concluded in the report that the nursing home could not recruit enough staff to reopen. Though the INH board had hoped to bring nurses from abroad, that isn’t feasible, the report said.

“[T]here is no chance that we can get them before our licenses with CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] expire in October, 2022,” the report said.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Deer Isle Town Manager Jim Fisher in a phone interview. However, he said the outcome was predictable. “It’s hard to start up any medical facility in rural Maine,” he said.

Financial viability

The Covenant report concluded that INH would lose $500,000 annually should it restart as a residential care facility. Covenant said government reimbursement falls far short of the cost of caring for a resident.

“It is not financially viable to operate solely as a residential care facility dependent on reimbursements from the State of Maine,” the report said.

The INH board had also set itself the task of determining if it could create a sustainable source of outside funding to fill the financial gap it would face if it reopened.

Stonington Town Manager Kathleen Billings, a former INH board member, said that gap is the reason the nursing home was founded as a nonprofit.

“There has always been a gap between reimbursements and costs,” she said in an email. “The nursing home is a huge economic and community driver for the entire peninsula, but we haven’t had a chance to discuss this and problem-solve together,” she said.

A different proposal

Stonington Selectman Evelyn Duncan, also a former INH board member, thinks there is a way to reopen the nursing home. She, too, views INH as having a charitable mission.

“It can’t make it by itself, that’s it in a nutshell,” said Duncan.

She said that if the taxpayers feel strongly enough about reopening the nursing home, each island and peninsula town could contribute something toward its operation.

“I haven’t seen their finances, I don’t know where they stand or what they would need,” she said. But Duncan estimated the cost would be between $25,000 and $50,000 per town. Then, she said, private donors could be solicited to fill the remaining gap. Tiny wheeled homes could be used to house nurses, she said.

Finally, Duncan said, the state should be petitioned to pay more to reimburse nursing homes for care. “The state has enough surplus to give $850 to everybody,” she pointed out in a phone interview.

Future

The INH board intends to start a community dialogue in June about a future use for the building.

The problem with repurposing the nursing home facility, Fisher said, is that it was built for one use. “I hope it doesn’t go to seed,” he said.

Further, Deer Isle Selectman Joe Brown said INH should pay property taxes if it isn’t running a nursing home.

“I don’t see why they should have the tax exemption if they’re not a viable nursing home,” Brown said in a phone interview.

“I hate to see it go,” he said. “It’s done a lot of good things for people on the Island.”