A shuttered island nursing home that is looking to sell off its rights to providing skilled care has some more wiggle room to decide its future, if it can find any staffing.
Officials with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services late last month granted Deer Isle’s Island Nursing Home an extra year to keep its status as a temporarily closed facility, allowing the home to hold onto its licenses until October 2023 even though it’s not operating.
The extension gives the nursing home, which closed in 2021 due to a lack of nurses, more time to figure out its next steps and loosens the grip of urgency to sell its skilled nursing beds. Before the reprieve, the bed license would have lost all value if not sold by the October 2022 expiration date.
Island residents and officials, many of whom attended a packed community meeting late last month, hope this could give the nursing home time to reconsider reopening as a skilled care facility.
“That takes the pressure off,” said James Fisher, the Deer Isle town manager. “The beds will still be worth something a year from now.”
But a nursing home spokesperson on Monday said that the ongoing struggle to find enough nurses for skilled care likely won’t disappear by the end of the extension and, though they would consider all options, the home is still pursuing a sale of its license.
“It’s still a staffing issue,” said Dan Cashman, the spokesperson for the home. “I can’t say [the extension] changes that aspect of things dramatically.”
The granting of the extension has triggered a change at the top of the organization. Ronda Dodge, who had been serving as the board president, told the board last month that she would step down to focus on other things once the nonprofit secured the extra year.
Leon Weed, the board’s new president, applauded Dodge’s efforts and said it will move forward with more flexibility.
“The staffing issues for nursing facilities remain problematic not just in Maine but around the country,” he said. “These issues are not going away and we will continue to do our best to find the best use for this facility.”
Some aren’t giving up hope on skilled care, though.
The town of Stonington has hired an attorney to look at what rights the municipality has to be involved in the process and try to keep the facility going.
Kathleen Billings, the Stonington town manager and a former nursing home board member, said she understands that businesses are having trouble finding 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 that coastal community could get enough staff to support a much larger facility but Deer-Isle Stonington couldn’t.
“Why do you have to sell the licenses,” Billings said. “It doesn’t make any sense. None of us can figure out why they want to get rid of them.”