News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Castine Patriot, May 19, 2022 and Island Ad-Vantages, May 19, 2022 and The Weekly Packet, May 19, 2022
Questions remain in wake of INH report
Criticism focuses on lack of transparency

Penobscot Nursing Home

The Penobscot Nursing Home, most recently known as the Northern Bay Residential Living Center, closed in 2017.

Photo by Leslie Landrigan Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Leslie Landrigan

A consultant’s report on the viability of reopening the Island Nursing Home failed to answer important questions that still linger, say former board members and Stonington town leaders during their May 16 select board meeting.

The report, about 3,400 words, was printed in last week’s Ad-Vantages, but INH Board President Ronda Dodge declined to answer questions about it. Board member Skip Greenlaw did say in a phone interview that the board had unanimously accepted the report, dated May 6 and authored by Covenant Health Systems.

The nursing home closed in October 2021 because of a shortage of nursing staff, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The facility also faced a financial shortfall because government reimbursement falls short of the actual cost of care, the report said. Serious consideration was given to reopening the nursing home with residential care only, but the report said INH would lose $500,000 a year if it were to do that.

However, the report offered little else in the way of the nursing home’s finances.

Stonington Town Manager Kathleen Billings said the community couldn’t have closure until more questions—primarily financial ones—were answered.

“With all the money that people gave, it just feels like there’s still an issue with transparency not being there,” Billings said.

Questions

Former INH board president Deborah De Witt, in a letter to the Ad-Vantages, also said the financial information was lacking.

“The generous $1 million endowment provided by the Next Generation Foundation of Maine is not mentioned in any of the documents, though it generates significant income that can be used to offset operating losses,” De Witt wrote.

Also unmentioned was the $581,400 INH received in Paycheck Protection Program loans in 2020 from the Small Business Administration, since forgiven.

De Witt wrote that Covenant’s conclusions were obvious to the board more than four years ago.

Even then, INH had to hire expensive contract, or traveling, nurses because of the difficulty finding staff. By 2020, the report said, INH’s cost of contract nurses had risen to $600,000. Matthew Trombley was then serving as chief executive officer and senior executive director.

Billings wondered why INH didn’t try to raise money from the community. “When they were paying for these nurses, why weren’t they doing fundraising?” she said.

Last year’s task force concluded that the INH board needed to raise $1 million in donations in order to reopen in October 2022, noted De Witt in her letter. “The current INH board has done virtually nothing to raise money,” she wrote.

Another former board member, Linda Nelson, said the Island Nursing Home was originally created as a charity for a reason.

“You think about why the Island Nursing Home was created as a nonprofit,” she said. “They knew the population that needed to be served would be on Medicaid.”

Future

According to the report, the INH building is in good shape and the board has ideas for reusing it in some way to serve the island’s seniors. The board intends to have discussions with the community in June about ways to use the facility, the report said.

Billings, however, predicted the INH building would eventually fall into disrepair, just like a closed nursing home facility a few towns over.

“It’s going to look like Penobscot,” she said.

INH board member Skip Greenlaw declined to comment, and INH board president Ronda Dodge refused to be interviewed.