Islanders working on similar problems in isolation is almost always improved when islanders gather to compare notes.
That was the idea behind a now-annual retreat for those who care for elderly islanders, inspired by Sharon Daley, an Islesboro resident and Seacoast Mission Island health services director. This year’s retreat, the sixth sponsored by Maine Seacoast Mission and aimed at island eldercare home and healthcare administrators and staff, was hosted at the Islesboro home of Robert and Deborah McNeil on Oct. 28-29.
Among its 30 participants were those from Cheabegue Island, Long Island, Cliff Island, Vinalhaven, North Haven, Swan’s Island and Mount Desert Island, and from the mainland.
The agenda for this year’s retreat, moderated by Deb Burwell of the firm Paddling the Rapids, featured a mixture of practical issues as well as thought-provoking topics.
For example, Phyllis Powell, director of the Maine Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services, a steady advocate for eldercare homes, attended to help with questions about navigating state nursing home regulations. Geriatric psychologist and Islesboro resident Janis Petzel spoke about isolation and the elderly.
There was time for peer-to-peer consultations, group brainstorming, and at the end, for setting goals and action plans.
Island eldercare aims to keep islanders in their own communities near family and friends for as long as possible. Several islands and mainland communities operate eldercare homes and offer support services for other elders still in their own homes.
Some of the facilities, like Wiscasset Green and others in the ElderCare Network of Lincoln County, have been in operation for a long time and can consider dedicating one of their homes to a specialized service such as memory care, one of the end-of-retreat brainstorms that Andrea Handel and Pamela George pondered.
Some island healthcare providers, like Donna Weigle of Swan’s Island, are increasingly involved in aging-in-place services.
“We can make sure someone comes to elders to provide domestic care, and we have a life-line service,” Wiegle said of her island’s response. “With a population of only 350 we didn’t want to build a home.”
Similarly, on Cliff Island in Casco Bay, Cheryl Crowley said aging-in-place was the way to go for them, too.
The retreat has resulted in a blog and conference calls scheduled through the winter so participants can stay in touch and follow-up with each other. It has also resulted in a valuable line of communication with representatives from the state for aging and disability services and licensing and regulation. Additionally, just this past year the group was able to get legislation to increase MaineCare reimbursements to island eldercare facilities to cover the higher expenses of island providers. One participant commented that legislators might say, “Oh, it’s islanders again. They chose to live out there.” However, participants observed, what happens on islands now is the future of what is happening for elders in rural settings elsewhere in Maine. Islanders are coming up with creative solutions to get people out of long term care, a government goal to improve care and reduce costs.
The retreat also seemed to inspire participants on a personal level. One commented about how good it is “to remember why we do what we do, to get out of just concentrating on the care plans and remember to connect with our elders.”
Another participant reported, “I get more variety of ways to deal with regulations or meet my goals in a 24-hour session with this group than I could ever come up with on my own.”