A sign just before the Island Nursing Home in Deer Isle calls on the now-closed home to save its skilled nursing beds. The home has been pondering selling the rights to the beds to potentially fund reopening as a residential care facility. Credit: Ethan Genter / BDN

A closed nursing home on Deer Isle will sell the rights to most of its beds, squashing any hopes that it could be restored to its full former glory.

Closed since 2021 due to a lack of staffing, the Island Nursing Home announced Tuesday that its board of directors agreed to sell the licenses for two-thirds of its beds to Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent for approximately $700,000. The board hopes the sale will give the home some much needed revenue to explore potential ways to reopen, though several local officials think the move will only lead to a permanent closure of the facility.

“If Island Nursing Home is going to reopen in any capacity, it will have to be with fewer beds, and a smaller staff,” said Leon Weed, the nursing home board president. “Selling off some of the bed rights will allow us to still exhaust every possible option for reopening, while generating the necessary revenue to continue to take care of the building, plan for necessary renovations, and operate under its ‘temporary closure’ status.”

For the moment, the nursing home will hold onto its rights for the remaining beds, which could be used either for skilled nursing care or residential care. One-third of its licenses shakes out to either 18 skilled nursing care beds or 36 residential beds, or some combination of the two.

If the nursing home does reopen with enough staff to meet a greater demand, it could go through a long process to buy more additional bed rights from another facility.

Though the home says this will keep reopening hopes alive, Evelyn Duncan, a Stonington Select Board member, interpreted it as the death knell.

Without the full complement of nursing home beds, she couldn’t see a financially feasible way for the home to continue.

“It’s dead,” she said. “I honestly can’t make any plan economically viable for a nursing home without those nursing home beds.”

The island towns of Deer Isle and Stonington, as well as the neighboring Blue Hill Peninsula, have made impassioned pleas to the nonprofit to keep as many beds as possible. Marcia Myers, a Deer Isle resident, was one of the people who collected 1,500 signatures calling to save the beds.

She wasn’t surprised by the pending sale, but was concerned that there is no solid plan for a future reopening and wished the home would lean on community members to be part of the solution.

The home did seem to be moving in that direction. Only just a few weeks ago, nursing home board member Skip Greenlaw raised the idea of saving the beds if area towns pitched in $700,000 and helped find nursing home staff and housing.

The nursing home board said Tuesday that the reality of staffing and housing shortages on the island make it clear that a full reopening isn’t possible and the best path forward is selling the beds and pursuing a scaled-back option.

That quick shift has left a bad taste in the mouths of some community members and could make it hard in the future to rally any local support.

Kathleen Billings, the Stonington town manager and former nursing board member, said the nursing home situation was akin to lobsterman setting his traps and then selling his boat.

“It’s over,” she said. “The beds are what makes the money.”

The nursing home was one of the biggest employers on the island. The closing was a gut punch to the community that left a void for families who need skilled nursing care. Without the Island Nursing Home, the next closest facility is about an hour’s drive away.

Worried that the nursing home was the tip of the iceberg, Stonington formed a health care task force last month to look for ways to keep health services on the rural island.

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