BANGOR, Maine — Nelson Durgin, who for more than 15 years has modeled leadership and collaboration within Bangor’s health care community, will retire at the end of June from his position as executive director of the Phillips-Strickland House Corp.
Phillips-Strickland House Corp. is the parent company of Phillips-Strickland House and Boyd Place in Bangor, both nonprofit residential care facilities for senior citizens.
Karen Higgins, who has served as the administrator of the Phillips-Strickland House for the past five years, will be promoted to executive director of the corporation.
Vigorous at 72, Durgin said Thursday that it is time to hand the reins over to someone new.
“I have a philosophy that people can stay [on the job] too long. It’s important that leadership be passed on,” he said.
“It is also summer in Maine, and I enjoy playing golf,” he added with a chuckle.
A native of Oxford County, Durgin joined Phillips-Strickland House Corp. in 1995, after a nearly 30-year career with the Maine Air National Guard that culminated with his being appointed by Gov. John McKernan to serve as adjutant general and commissioner of the Department of Defense and Veterans’ Services. He held that office until 1995, when he accepted the position in Bangor.
Phillips-Strickland House was formed in 1977, the result of a merger between the Home for Aged Women, founded in 1872 by Mary Phillips, and the Home for Aged Men, founded at about the same time by Lysander Strickland. The new organization moved out of separate facilities on State Street into new quarters at the corner of York Street and Boyd Place.
“For several years, there was a men’s wing and women’s wing, but then we discovered that they actually got along together pretty well,” Durgin said.
Phillips-Strickland House provides private rooms and personal care for about 45 elderly men and women who need assistance with daily activities such as bathing, dressing, meal preparation and medication administration. A few pay privately, but the cost of caring for the great majority of these residents is borne by MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program. Residents enrolled in MaineCare also pay for a portion of their care from their Social Security or pension benefits. Private fundraising helps offset costs not otherwise covered.
Boyd Place was added in 2000, offering 33 one- and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who can live independently without personal assistance. Residents of Boyd Place pay privately for their apartments and amenities, which include a restaurant, an exercise room and social activities.
As executive director, Durgin instituted policies that require all employees of Boyd Place and Phillips-Strickland House to receive ongoing training. The organization also supports formal education through tuition reimbursement and other measures that encourage workers to build their professional credentials. The result, he said, is a staff of committed, longtime employees who give high-level attention to every resident.
“When I go home at night, I know there is someone here who cares about our residents as much as I do,” he said.
Durgin praised the state’s policy of funding programs that help senior citizens to live as long as possible in their homes or with family members. But he cautioned that it can be expensive to maintain safe, home-based living conditions for Maine’s elderly residents and that many would benefit from the security and support of Medicaid-funded facilities such as Phillips-Strickland House.
“When you have a 90-year-old woman who has worked all her life, outlived her spouse and used up all her resources, this place is a sanctuary,” he said. “There is no other resource.” He said facilities such as Phillips-Strickland House are in danger of being underfunded in tight budgetary times.
In addition to his leadership of the Phillips-Strickland House Corp., Durgin is well-known in the Bangor area for his participation with area boards and civic organizations, including the Eastern Area Agency on Aging, the St. Joseph Healthcare Foundation, the Bangor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, the Bangor Rotary Club, and the Public Health Advisory Board that guides activities in the Penquis Public Health District.
“I like to build collaborations,” he said. “I think we make better decisions that way.” Durgin said he expects to remain active in many of these pursuits after he retires.
“I am very committed to public service,” he said. “It is the best way that we as citizens can provide for ourselves and others and have an impact on our communities.”
Durgin lives near Bangor’s municipal golf course with his wife, Carla. They have two grown children and three grandchildren in the area.