The Mount Desert Island community is still reeling from news of the closing of Sonogee Rehabilitation and Living Center in Bar Harbor. It is a big change for the island, and especially for the employees, residents and family members who are scrambling for other options.
The change also throws into sharp relief the fact that here, in the oldest county in the oldest state in the union, we have our work cut out for us to create and maintain enough of the right kinds of care options for elders.
Since 1995, Maine is down almost 3,000 nursing home beds as facilities have closed. Long-term care facilities face a spate of new regulations that will be expensive to implement, especially for small facilities that are the norm here.
In recent years, home care and aging in place have been in the spotlight. A state referendum question last year to create a Universal Home Care Program was defeated by a large margin. And despite campaign signs blaming “the nursing home lobby” for messages in opposition to the proposal, the largest contributors to the No on 1 campaign were the Maine Association of Realtors and large employers such as L.L. Bean and IDEXX Laboratories, according to Ballotopedia.
Support for elders is not an either/or: we need both support for staying at home when possible and desired and sufficient residential care for when it’s not.
The island communities of Islesboro, North Haven, Vinalhaven and Chebeague have opened new, small assisted living facilities in recent years. The administrators of these facilities work together to navigate the regulatory maze and advocate for their organizations in Augusta. They gather for an annual conference convened by the Maine Seacoast Mission.
Here on MDI, we have enormous resources, expertise and will to create local solutions to the problems we face. Witness the Parish House, which opened in 2017 as a group home for young adults with disabilities after years of tireless work by families and advocates. We also have many service organizations dedicated partly or completely to addressing the needs of senior residents. Why not a new, community-based long-term care facility, if the community decides that’s what’s needed?