News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, September 22, 2022 and The Weekly Packet, September 22, 2022
Looking for answers to rural health care problems
Stonington health care committee takes on big task

by Leslie Landrigan

The town’s health care committee scheduled a focus group just with local health care workers on September 21 to help find new solutions to the problem of rural health care. The meeting follows the Island Nursing Home’s announcement of the sale of some of its bed rights earlier in September.

“Rural health care, especially for our elders, is too important for small towns just to allow to disappear or be consolidated,” Linda Nelson, Stonington’s economic development director, said in an email. The group is part of the Stonington Economic Development Committee.

“The more we understand and the more real, local data we have, the more the town can actively work to solve problems, remove barriers and buck national trends, as we always have,” Nelson said.

The focus group will try to assess how many health care workers live in the area, how many elders need services and what barriers exist to working locally, she said.

Meanwhile, Stonington Selectman Evelyn Duncan said she no longer supports a plan for the towns to provide financial support for INH since the board sold the bed rights.

“My mind got changed on that little subject,” Duncan said at the Stonington select board meeting on September 19. Duncan had first floated the idea that each island and peninsula town should kick in money to compensate INH for inadequate state reimbursement for nursing care.

Deer Isle selectmen have said they won’t support giving money to INH without a plan.

“They need a business plan, now they’ve got all this cash, apparently,” said Deer Isle Town Manager Jim Fisher. “They don’t have a business plan that we know of.”

INH did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

In Stonington, Nelson said the purpose of the new health care committee is to explore “ways to sustain access to needed health services for our rural community for all life stages and facets.”

The group also intends to collaborate with local nonprofits on recruiting, retaining, educating and training health care professionals, she said. That includes certified nursing assistants, doctors, nurses and veterinarians, Nelson said.

Finally, the committee intends to lobby for more state money for rural health care and to address what Nelson called its “crippling reimbursement issue and outdated staffing requirements.”