News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, September 30, 2021
Select boards hammer secrecy, management at INH
But they still want a nursing home on the island

by Leslie Landrigan

Stonington and Deer Isle selectmen said they want a nursing home on the island during a joint select board meeting on September 28. They also criticized the management and board of the Island Nursing Home for what they called lack of transparency and poor management. About 20 people attended the meeting via Zoom and in person.

INH’s board president, Ronda Dodge, replied that turnover has been well below the state and industry average over the past three years, save for 13 clinical staff members who walked out during the COVID-19 outbreak last winter. Matthew Trombley was hired to run INH in 2018.

Deer Isle Selectman Ronnie Eaton said he’d done some research about why people left the nursing home, which is closing on October 26 because of staffing shortages.

“It leads to management,” said Eaton. “A lot of people would go back, almost 100 percent of the people I talked to said they’d go back, they loved it there. But with that management there, they won’t.”

Dodge said only 13 people left over three years if the staff who left during the COVID-19 outbreak weren’t included. The nursing home’s biggest challenge in attracting staff was child care and housing, she said.

Transparency

Deer Isle Selectman Peter Perez said INH should have opened up communication with the town two years ago. Otherwise, he said, “we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“No one from the nursing home ever told us they’re in trouble. Nobody,” said Selectman Joe Brown. “The transparency of the board and the administration has been a major problem with the townspeople.”

But, he said, “moving forward rather than moving backward, I’d like to see the Island Nursing Home maybe cut back some and still have a facility there that cared for the people on the island.” He said both select boards should find a way to encourage INH to keep the facility open.

Stonington Selectman Evelyn Duncan said she doubted the current management could do it. “You have to step out of the box if you’re gong to save it,” she said. “We need somebody who’s a pro. There’s somebody out there. It’ll cost money, but at least they can say it will work or not work.”

A task force to find a future for the INH facility has met twice. It is headed by Dodge, according to task force spokesperson and state representative Genevieve McDonald.

Affordable housing

Dodge said the nursing home tried to buy houses in order to attract staff. “We were outbid on several houses we were interested in,” Dodge said.

Duncan suggested they put a modular home on the nursing home’s 18-plus acres.

Dodge replied that INH was going to do that. “But because of zoning, we are zoned as a multifamily dwelling, and we have built to the size of the lot.”

“I think I would have come back to the Deer Isle [planning board] people,” Duncan said.

Neither Town Manager Jim Fisher nor the Deer Isle selectmen said they ever heard from INH about a zoning variance.

“Lack of transparency,” said Eaton.

Stonington Town Manager Kathleen Billings, who served on the INH board, said in the past the board had been quite open with the public.

“I don’t know where the cloak and dagger thing came from,” she said.

The way ahead

Brown said he wouldn’t raise money to keep the nursing home on the island unless there’s a change in transparency and a change in management. “If they want money, open up the transparency,” he said.

Rene Colson Hudson, Healthy Island Project executive director, pointed out that four seats on the board are open. “We need to have good people who will take those positions,” she said.

Hudson also said the community doesn’t own the nursing home—the board does.

“We have to figure out a way to work with them,” she said.