In a yellow Victorian home donated for the cause three years ago by a summer resident, the building off Pulpit Harbor Road sits on a hill overlooking Southern Harbor, an inlet on the southwest side of the island, roughly 10 miles offshore.
The project is a collaboration between the North Haven Sustainable Housing nonprofit group, which raised $3 million for the project, and the Southern Harbor Elder Care Services nonprofit, which will manage the facility once it’s up and running.
When it opens this fall, the new residential home will provide around the clock care as needed as well as a wider breadth of readily available medical care, which is expected to help prevent elderly island residents from having to leave the island, Hannah Pingree, project fundraiser and sustainable housing board member, said Thursday.
In a state with a population that skews older than nationwide average, the above-65 population on offshore islands tends to be even a bit more exaggerated. On North Haven, 31 percent of the year-round population of about 400 is over 60, while 25 percent of Maine’s population are people 60 and older, according to U.S. Census data.
On offshore islands such as North Haven, it’s more common for the elderly to relocate to a mainland facility for their last years where daily support is more readily available. Last year, for example, two longtime island residents who died at the ages of 94 and 96 lived in elder care facilities on the mainland, according to North Haven Town Clerk Kathy Stone Macy.
North Haven will be the third Penobscot Bay island to gain an elder care home, behind Islesboro’s Boardman Cottage and Vinalhaven’s Ivan Calderwood Homestead, which are similarly-sized facilities. The Chebeague Island Commons on Chebeague Island is the only on-island facility in Casco Bay.
Maintaining on-island residential and medical services for older residents is part of a larger trend to support individuals’ desire to age in place, according to Sharon Daley, board member for the eight-bed Boardman Cottage and director of island health for the Maine Seacoast Mission.
It’s dramatic enough to move to an assisted living home in old age, but to move from an offshore island where one has lived for decades to a mainland assisted living facility, the transition from an insular community is predictably much more isolating, Daley said.
“I think it’s extremely hard for anybody to leave their home and go into a facility, but if you’re going to leave your whole island and your whole community to go into a home off island, that’s really difficult. People will often wait long past the time that it’s maybe safe,” she said.
“It’s not a unique issue for people in rural areas to sort of struggle to figure out where to meet long-term care needs, but I think on an island it’s especially unique,” she said.
“For a person who has lived on an offshore island their whole life, it’s especially desperate and preferable [for them] to stay in their communities,” she said.