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News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, September 10, 2021 and The Weekly Packet, September 9, 2021
How COVID-19 forced INH to close
Pandemic exacerbated staff shortage

by Leslie Landrigan

The pandemic caused a big part of the Island Nursing Home’s staffing problems, especially since 13 employees walked out during the COVID-19 outbreak last winter, according to Ronda Dodge, INH’s board president.

INH had a hard time finding staff before the pandemic, Dodge said. “During and after COVID it became near impossible,” she said.

Dodge, who works in the health care field, said a national nursing shortage had long been predicted by 2030. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated that problem, she said, with 390,000 leaving the health care profession since the pandemic began.

That made it harder to replace the 13 people who walked out during the outbreak that killed 14 residents.

Because of the staff walkouts, INH had to rely more heavily on traveling nurses and on overtime for the staff that stayed. The nursing home had budgeted $800,000 for contract staff, but the staffing agencies doubled and tripled their rates, Dodge said. INH ended up spending about $1.2 million for contract staff in 2020.

Costs for contract staff, or “travelers,” contributed to a loss of about $200,000 last year, she said. A deficit of $860,000 was partially offset by $90,000 from the annual appeal and a federal Paycheck Protection Plan forgiveness loan of about $560,000, Dodge said.

“We were under budget for everything but contract staffing,” she said.

Facebook attacks

Former employees have posted complaints about the management style of Matthew Trombley, INH’s senior executive director, on a Facebook page named “Save Our Nursing Home,” Dodge said.

“It’s infuriating to me they’re trying to make this an issue about Matthew instead of looking at the fact that COVID caused the staff to leave,” she said. “He’s done a really good job for us and for our patients.

She said Trombley cut costs and followed regulations to the letter.

“He’s not Mr. Personality, but he does give his heart and soul to this community and they love him,” she said.

Dodge said many of the former staff that posted negative comments couldn’t return to the nursing home because of what’s in their Human Resources files.