A brown sign reads "Island Nursing Home And Care Center"
Closed in 2021, the Island Nursing Home in Deer Isle is now considering other potential uses for the facility as the chances for reopening as a nursing home grow slimmer. Credit: Ethan Genter / BDN

Faced with daunting obstacles that make reopening as a nursing home unlikely, Deer Isle’s Island Nursing Home is considering other ways it can use its facility to help seniors.

In a series of documents released this week, the nursing home outlined its continued struggle to overcome staffing shortages and meet upcoming licensing deadlines needed to reopen. But, with the facility still in good physical shape, the nursing home’s board said there’s a possibility it could morph into something else.

“We have several ideas of how we may be able to create a whole new way of serving our seniors without so many of the challenges that come with providing skilled nursing care,” the board wrote in a new report.

The board did not explicitly say that it was giving up on its effort to resurrect the nursing home, but noted that it intended to have public discussions next month to gather suggestions on how to best use the facility in the future.

Ronda Dodge, the president of the nursing home board, declined to comment Thursday on what other uses the board was considering.

The Island Nursing Home operated in Hancock County for 40 years before shutting down in 2021. One of the biggest employers on the island, it was a gut punch for many in Deer Isle and Stonington. A groundswell of support formed around it after the closing and a local task force convened to help nursing home officials get the place back up and running.

However, despite the efforts, the outlook for the nursing home reopening appears bleak.

When the facility closed the state suspended its licenses and Medicare certifications, allowing the nursing home to keep them in case it could reopen. The state license is set to expire in February 2023. Certifications with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services expire in October 2022.

To be financially stable, the nursing home would need to have a fully staffed skilled nursing care unit – something the nursing home board concluded was not possible before the October deadline.

The nursing home would need to have more than 50 full-time care staff to meet licensing requirements, a number that it felt it could not fill. In 2020 and 2021, the home said it exhausted all of its recruiting options and still had 37 unfilled positions when it closed.

The board did look into potentially bringing in nurses from the Philippines but estimated it would take at least a year before they could arrive.

Any potential staff that could be secured would also need housing, something that has been increasingly difficult to find on the island. The nursing home looked into building housing, getting people to offer their homes as rentals or buying existing properties.

While securing more housing probably would have attracted more staff, the nursing home felt that with the ongoing worker shortage, there still wouldn’t have been enough people, whether there was housing for them or not.

Reopening after either licensing deadline would mean the nursing home would have to comply with a host of different standards that it had previously been grandfathered under, and require structural changes to the building.

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According to Covenant Health, a consultant hired by the nursing home board late last year, the nursing home would also need a minimum of $3 million in reserve by October to fund the first year of operating, another obstacle even if they could get the staff needed.

“Given today’s challenges with staffing, the impact of the pandemic, and the pending date of October 2022, it would be more realistic for the INH Board of directors to reassess the potential for operating a nursing home in two-three years,” Covenant wrote in a presentation from earlier this month.

The consultant suggested, given the financial strain of operating a skilled nursing facility, that the board consider partnering with a larger organization if it did want to continue as a nursing home.

Another option the board said it seriously considered was only providing residential care. But it calculated that under that model it would lose about $500,000 a year.

Without a “skilled nursing care unit to help offset the costs, it is not financially viable to operate solely as a residential care facility dependent on reimbursements from the State of Maine,” the board wrote.

If the nursing home remains closed it would be a blow to the area, town officials said. In a graying part of the state, the next closest nursing home in Hancock County is about 30 miles away in Ellsworth.

“It’s terrible news,” said Kathleen Billings, the Stonington town manager. “It’s a big loss for the community, no doubt about it.”