Operators of a remote, shuttered Maine nursing home hope a license extension will be just what the doctor ordered to give the struggling facility time to replace staff and reopen for business.

Without the extension, which was granted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in late July, the license for the 38-bed, nonprofit Island Nursing Home in Deer Isle would have lost all value if not sold before its October 2022 expiration, according to published reports. The facility has now managed to retain its “temporarily closed” nursing home status and its license until October 2023.

The nursing home closed in 2021 due to a lack of nurses and has been working feverishly since then to replace workers and reopen. The facility used social media to announce it would close at the end of October after 40 years in business, as McKnight’s Long-Term Care News reported. The facility has blamed its inability to attract workers on its “remote location, Maine winters, and the lack of affordable housing near our facility.”

Dan Cashman, a facility spokesman, said a years-long nurse staff shortage in Maine was exacerbated at Island Nursing Home by a 2021 COVID outbreak in the facility in 2021. Then 23 workers resigned when a vaccine mandate was announced, leaving the facility with just two clinical staff. 

But the problems run deeper than COVID.

Maine estimates that healthcare facilities will be short 2,700 nurses over the next two and a half years, Cashman told McKnight’s. Two other state nursing homes — Country Manor Nursing Home in Coopers Mills, with 30 beds, and the 21-bed Somerset Rehabilitation and Living Center in Bingham — announced closure plans around the same time as Island. Meanwhile, Maine Veterans Homes in Machias and Caribou received additional state appropriations and play to remain open indefinitely, according to a spokeswoman.

For now, Island Nursing Home’s plans to sell its bed licenses are still on the table.

Leon Weed, the president of Island Nursing Home’s board of directors, said he hopes the board will “move forward with more flexibility. The staffing issues for nursing facilities remain problematic not just in Maine but around the country.”

Stonington’s town manager, Kathleen Billings, has said she understands that businesses are having trouble finding staff, but hopes the home will use the extra time to develop a new plan or at least reopen on a smaller scale.

The prospect of losing the small nursing home has many townspeople worried. For one, the next closest skilled care facility is about an hour away from Deer Isle, an island that has an aging population.

Some townsfolk remain optimistic the nursing home will eventually reopen as an active skilled nursing facility, following a packed community meeting in late July.

Weed told observers that while “these issues are not going away,” he and others close to management have vowed to continue to do their best to find the best use for the facility.

Others in the town are taking a more reserved position.

“That takes the pressure off. The beds will still be worth something a year from now,” James Fisher, the Deer Isle town manager, told the Bangor News.

But Cashman told reporters solutions to solve the struggle to find enough nurses likely won’t disappear by the end of the extension. He added that while all options are on the table, the home is still pursuing a sale of its license. 

“It’s still a staffing issue,” Cashman told the newspaper. 

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that the veterans homes in Machias and Caribou will remain open indefinitely. An earlier version had indicated otherwise.