License extension gives island community hope their shuttered retirement home could reopen

A shuttered island care home looking to sell its rights to provide skilled care has extra leeway in deciding its future, if it can find staff.

Late last month, officials at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services granted Deer Isle’s Island Nursing Home an additional year to retain its status as a temporarily closed facility, allowing the home to retain its licenses until October 2023 even if it does not work.

The extension gives the care home, which closed in 2021 due to a shortage of nurses, more time to figure out its next steps and loosens the grip of the ER to sell its qualified care beds . Prior to the reprieve, the bed license would have lost all value had it not been sold by the October 2022 expiration date.

Island residents and officials, many of whom attended a packed community meeting late last month, hope this will give the care home time to reconsider reopening as a skilled care facility.

“It takes the pressure off,” said Deer Isle city manager James Fisher. “Beds are still going to be worth something a year from now.”

But a spokesperson for the care home said on Monday the ongoing struggle to find enough nurses for skilled care is unlikely to go away by the end of the extension and, although they are considering all options , the home is still pursuing the sale of its license.

“It’s always a staffing issue,” said Dan Cashman, the home’s spokesperson. “I can not tell [the extension] radically changes this aspect of things.

The granting of the extension triggered a change at the top of the organization. Ronda Dodge, who served as board chair, told the board last month that she would step down to focus on other things once the nonprofit gets the year. additional.

Leon Weed, the new chairman of the board, applauded Dodge’s efforts and said he will move forward with more flexibility.

“Staffing issues for nursing facilities remain problematic not just in Maine but across the country,” he said. “These issues are not going away and we will continue to do our best to find the best use of this facility.”

However, some do not lose hope in skilled care.

The City of Stonington has hired a lawyer to review the municipality‘s rights to be involved in the process and try to keep the facility in operation.

Kathleen Billings, Stonington town manager and former nursing home board member, said she understood businesses were struggling to find staff, but hoped the home would use the extra time to develop a new plan or at least reopen on a smaller scale.

The next closest skilled care facility is about an hour away from Deer Isle, an island that has an aging population.

Billings looked at a developer’s proposal to build a 102-bed nursing home in Damariscotta and wondered how this coastal community could get enough staff to support a much larger facility, but Deer-Isle Stonington couldn’t. not.

“Why do you have to sell the licenses,” Billings said. ” It does not mean anything. None of us can understand why they want to get rid of it.