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News Feature

The Island
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, September 8, 2022 and The Weekly Packet, September 8, 2022
Selectmen to INH: ‘We need a plan’
INH to selectmen: ‘We need staff’

by Leslie Landrigan

Island Nursing Home board members have personally sought help from five select boards since August 22, but a spokesman said nothing has happened that would let INH reopen soon as a skilled nursing facility.

The INH board has disclosed that it has an opportunity to sell some or all of its 38 skilled-nursing bed licenses to another facility in Maine. More than 1,500 people signed a petition opposing the sale because they want INH to offer skilled nursing care.

In meeting with the select boards, INH Treasurer Skip Greenlaw asked for three things: a total of $700,000 to make up for the loss of revenue by not selling the bed licenses; 10 housing units from each town; and help finding staff.

Greenlaw has visited the towns of Stonington, Deer Isle, Brooklin, Blue Hill and Sedgwick. He is scheduled to meet with Brooksville on September 8.

Sedgwick Selectman Ben Astbury said INH must first submit a written plan with financial information before its request for money gets onto town meeting warrants, or possibly a referendum.

“In order for any town to be able to advance a request, they’re obviously going to have to provide some supporting documentation,” Astbury said in a phone interview.

Time is short: The nursing home must reopen, at least on a limited basis, by February 23, 2023, in order to keep its license from the state.

Communication

Astbury said INH’s appeal for money would have to go through Sedgwick’s robust budget process.

“The town budget committee would require the INH board to present the request, provide a written plan and a robust set of financials by the end of the first week of November to supplement and answer some questions thwe budget committee may have initially,” Astbury said in an email.

Then the budget committee would analyze the information and recommend to the select board an amount—which could be zero—to go on to the town meeting warrant or ballot, Astbury said.

Astbury also said the select board has asked Greenlaw to return shortly after their next meeting to provide the INH board’s response to the ideas and suggestions presented at the September 1 meeting.

In Deer Isle, INH might have to collect signatures from voters before even submitting a request for a donation, said Town Manager Jim Fisher.

“If they need $700,000 immediately or else sell the beds, we’re in a tough situation,” Fisher said.

Bill Cohen, speaking as a Brooklin selectman and not as an INH board member, said his select board would also require a plan.

“There needs to be a plan and there needs to be specifics,” Cohen said in a phone interview.

Staffing

But money isn’t the biggest problem INH is up against—shortage of workers is.

“Staffing remains the single most critical issue for any possible plan to reopen,” said Dan Cashman, INH spokesman, in an email. “While there have been good discussions and ongoing communication, there still has not been any new information that has been presented to the board that could offer any new staffing scenarios allowing INH to reopen as a skilled nursing facility in the near future.”

However, said Cashman, “the board continues exploring every option, even if those options had been explored in the past, and will continue to do so.”

The board is meeting weekly and members have conversations with each other between meetings, Cohen said.

The INH board is also seeking new members, as two—Cindy Lash and Tim Hoechst—term out at the end of September. Cashman said Deer Isle resident Brian Billings has agreed to join the remaining five members: Greenlaw, Cohen, President Leon Weed, Gidget Fagerberg and Karen Vickerson.

Housing

INH closed in October because of a staffing shortage, which stemmed from a lack of affordable housing, a task force concluded at the end of last year.

Cohen believes the INH’s housing problem is the peninsula’s housing problem. He has called a meeting to discuss affordable housing in the context of INH at The Brooklin School gym on the evening of September 22.

He has invited one selectmen or representative from each town, code enforcement officers, an engineer and a couple of developers, he said. Allen Kratz, a Brooksville climate-resilience consultant, will moderate.

“The question is, ‘Are we serious about this’?” Cohen said. “Are we serious about this on a peninsula level? What are action steps one and two?”

Where is the state?

The INH board has said the state of Maine does not reimburse nursing homes enough to cover the cost of caring for their residents. The state has also capped the number of bed licenses, which has made them a lucrative commodity and creates an incentive for existing nursing homes to sell the licenses. Finally, the state’s staffing requirements for nursing homes make it challenging to find enough qualified employees, the INH board has said.

Cohen said he keeps asking people, especially officeholders, “What are we doing to our elderly in rural Maine?”

“The biggest frustration of all is that no one’s talking about it,” he said. “It feels like we haven’t woken up.”

The town of Stonington announced in a press release on September 6 that it has formed a health care task force as part of the Stonington Economic Development Committee. Part of its mission is “politically addressing Maine’s crippling MaineCare reimbursement issues and outdated staffing requirements,” according to the statement.

“We’re experiencing the negative effects of corporate consolidation on our access to health care every day,” Town Manager Kathleen Billings said in the statement. “I want to be proactive and start changing this stuff.”

The first meeting of the task force was held on August 30. Meetings are scheduled for every two weeks, and anyone who would like to join should email econdev@stoningtonmaine.org. />