Wendy Hardy Dyer
More than 150 people attended an open house at the Island Nursing Home and Care Center on Sunday, June 23, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the opening of the award-winning facility.
In attendance were residents and their families, past and present employees, volunteers and board members, along with other invited guests including Lawrence “Skip” Greenlaw who briefly shared the history of the grassroots effort that was led by a group of “visionaries” who started to dream of such a place as far back as the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Highlighted at the entrance to the home was the newly acquired wheelchair accessible van dubbed the “Care-A-Van,” which is used to transport residents for various reasons. Currently, $51,525 has been raised of the original fundraising goal of $57,000 to complete the payment for the much needed vehicle.
Streamers and balloons were scattered throughout the home and spilled out into the courtyard where attendees were entertained with music provided by Dennis McGuire who calls himself a “one man band.” Several residents and staff were swaying to the familiar tunes from days gone by.
There were numerous photo collages that spanned the past 30 years, along with a slide show that ran on a continual loop inside the facility for guests to view. Light refreshments were served which included a colorful cake replica of the nursing home decorated by Lynn Jones Russell.
After the welcome and several introductions were made by current INH administrator Marc Plourde, the microphone was turned over to Greenlaw who said that though INH opened its doors and admitted its first two residents on a cold and snowy Valentine’s Day in 1983, the effort that led to the opening of the then 50-bed facility began in the late 1960s, when a group of island women saw a need for a nursing home in the Deer Isle-Stonington community.
“There were many wise, dedicated and visionary people that were involved in the early planning years. Among those was Phyllis Sellers who saw that there was a need to address healthcare issues on the island,” Greenlaw recalled. “Sellers and others knew that in order to have a nursing home on the island that they would need to secure a doctor.”
According to Greenlaw, thus began the first step in the long and sometimes challenging effort to provide long-term care for residents of the island and surrounding communities. For a total cost of $68,000, the Island Medical Center was built in the late 1960s and shortly thereafter, Thomas Garland was hired as its first physician, which opened the door for the group to move forward with their dream of an island nursing home.
Greenlaw spoke about the many obstacles that the group faced in the 1970s. They had virtually no money to work with but through their modest fundraising efforts were able to retain the services of an architect who eventually resigned half-way through the project. They were then faced with finding and hiring a new architect, along with securing funding for the project during a nationwide recession.
He went on to say that despite the recession, the Farmer’s Home Administration agreed to fund approximately $1,000,000 toward construction after seeing the exceptional community support. Through community fundraising efforts, an additional $500,000 was raised to match the FHA loan with the largest single contribution being $21,000.
With some slight changes in the building plans from a steel structure to a less expensive wood frame, construction got underway in the early 1980s. After opening, the next obstacle that they faced was to fill the 50-bed facility. In a short time there were 10 residents admitted, but then the admissions slowed for a period of time. Greenlaw noted that luckily the Maine Department of Human Services agreed to provide funding until there were more residents and the beds were filled.
“This facility is a special place,” Greenlaw concluded. “The staff that has worked here, some for 30 years, has made this a special place. It’s the staff and volunteers that have made this a loving, caring facility.”
Honored during the festivities were three employees who have been at the home since its doors were opened. Plaques of recognition and appreciation were presented to Ed Faulkingham, maintenance supervisor; Ada Weed, housekeeping; and Janice Olsen, a member of the nursing staff, for their 30 years of service. Olsen is retiring this year and will spend her free time with her grandchildren.
After sparkling cider was passed throughout the crowd, the formal ceremony was concluded as everyone raised a glass to a toast led by facility administrator Plourde, who, later, in a private interview, praised everyone involved in making the center such a success.
“I was involved in the corporate world before I came here 10 and a half years ago. This is a grassroots effort which goes from the bottom up, rather than from the top down like in the corporate world,” Plourde (who commutes from Hermon each day) proclaimed. “The board of directors takes no compensation for their effort because their primary focus is to provide quality care to the residents and support to their families.”
When asked about tentative plans to add on to the facility that now houses 38 skilled beds, and 32 in the assisted living wing, Plourde noted that after some fact finding and information gathering, plans for expansion have been temporarily put on hold due to the present economic climate and the uncertainty within our government structures and funding formulas.
He went on to say that they would not want to jeopardize the quality of services that they are presently providing, and that this issue would be revisited as time goes on.
Approximately 100 people are employed at INH making it one of the island’s largest employers. In September 2012, they were the recipient of the “Quality Award” by the Maine Health Care Association, given for “excellence by providers of long-term care services.” The Offices of Medicare and Medicaid has given the facility a 5-star rating for five consecutive years.