Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, November 23, 2022
INH asks towns for help with operating losses
Public informational meeting November 30
by Leslie Landrigan
The only way the Island Nursing Home can reopen is with residential care beds only and $3 million worth of donations from individuals and seven towns, island select boards were told by the INH board. The INH board presented its plans to reopen at the Deer Isle select board on November 16 and the Stonington select board on November 21.
It is asking for $100,000 from each of seven towns including Stonington, Deer Isle, Isle au Haut, Sedgwick, Brooksville, Brooklin and Blue Hill.
“It’s put up or shut up,” said INH President Leon Weed.
INH Treasurer Skip Greenlaw said the nursing home needs the money to cover operating losses when the board reopens as a 32-bed residential facility.
“The board does not believe that funding operating costs with fundraising is ideal,” Greenlaw said. “It’s the only thing we can do to get the facility running again.”
He acknowledged the community’s disappointment that INH can’t reopen with skilled-nursing beds.
“We’ve had a long, hard struggle to figure out what was doable and what was affordable,” Greenlaw said.
But the INH board may have to gather signatures from Deer Isle voters if it wants the $100,000 it says it needs from the town. Then if the request for $100,000 appears on the town meeting warrant on March 6, voters will have to approve it.
INH will definitely have to get signatures from Stonington voters, who will also go to town meeting on March 6.
Selectman Evelyn Duncan questioned how a residential-care facility could serve the island’s sickest seniors.
“It’s a glorified Deer Run,” Duncan said.
Island Nursing Home
The Island Nursing Home closed in October last year due to a staffing shortage. Since then, the INH board has been working to reopen the facility offering residential care, with the hope that it can offer skilled care in the future. INH earlier this year sold $1.2 million worth of bed-licensing rights, which means it likely will have to buy more bed licenses if it wants to add skilled-nursing beds.
Greenlaw said they plan to open July 1. But the state doesn’t reimburse nursing homes enough to pay for their care. INH anticipates an operating deficit of about $500,000 Greenlaw said.
The INH board is trying to raise $3 million to cover that half-million-dollar-loss for the first few years.
Should INH reopen with five skilled-care beds and 20 residential beds, it would lose between $1.5 million and $2 million annually, Greenlaw said.
Stonington selectmen questioned whether INH would be coming back year after year for money from the towns. Greenlaw said the INH board hoped to add more lucrative services, such as adult day care, child day care, dialysis or physical therapy.
He said he hopes INH won’t have to raise money in its second year of operation.
He also said he planned to work with state lawmakers and Maine nursing homes to increase the reimbursement for nursing home care.
Before INH closed, the operating cost was $195 per residential patient per day. INH got reimbursed $95. Last year the state increased the reimbursement to $126 per day, but with inflation the per-patient cost is now likely to be between $225 and $250 per day, Greenlaw said.
Stonington Town Manager Kathleen Billings said $100,000 is a lot of money. “You’re asking everyone’s taxes to go up. With our town budget, with inflation, I don’t know where we’re going to be,” she said. “If you add your $100,000, we’ll be up 25 percent.”
Weed said it would only amount to $67 on the average property tax bill.
Selectman John Robbins asked how the board intended to choose patients. Weed said previous INH patients will get priority. But Duncan pointed out INH probably couldn’t refuse patients from Maine towns that do not subsidize the nursing home’s operations. Selectman John Steed suggested contributions from the seven towns could be earmarked in a special fund to subsidize the care of people from those towns.
Stonington’s economic & community development director, Linda Nelson, pointed out that some nursing homes in Maine get reimbursed for the full cost of caring for patients. Greenlaw said he would look into it.
Deer Isle Town Manager Jim Fisher noted that INH had asked for $5,000 from the town in previous years. “The policy question is, ‘Can someone ask for more money without asking for signatures?’” Fisher said. “A 20-fold increase is a big increase.”
Deer Isle will consider “third-party requests” for funding at town meeting, to be held on Monday, March 6, 2023. Third parties asking for money for the first time must gather signatures before selectmen put the article on the warrant. They have to get 10 percent of the voters in the last gubernatorial election. This year, that would be 118 signatures, but requesters are advised to get more because some people sign twice and some people who sign aren’t residents.
Fisher said the deadline for submitting a third-party request is Thursday, December 1. So far, he said, most groups are asking for the same amount of money as last year.
Selectman Joe Brown asked Greenlaw and Weed about their finances. Greenlaw said that as of a month ago they had about $700,000 in their checking account, money market and investments. INH’s audit is almost complete, he said, and it will go up on its website.
Brown said the draft audit through June 30, 2021, indicated that INH had $900,000 on hand.
“We’ve had a year of operating expenses, contracts we’ve had to break, and that’s cost money and we have no money coming in,” Weed said.
INH will hold a public meeting on its reopening plan at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, November 30, at the high school gym. Greenlaw said he hopes to put it on Zoom.