A Deer Isle nursing home is demanding that employees don’t disparage the home if they want retention bonuses before a slated closing in late October and the state’s rejected strategies on ways to stay open.
Island Nursing Home was the first of three facilities to announce they would close by the end of October after the COVID-19 pandemic put additional pressure on a workforce that has long struggled with low wages and staff retention. The abrupt shutdown rocked and shocked a remote community that depends on it as one of three remaining nursing homes in Hancock County.
The facility has been quiet since it announced it would close on August 30, about two months before it was scheduled to close. But the home goes to great lengths to convince employees to stay before contract staff leave, which will force the home to fire residents immediately, showing just how serious staffing issues are in Maine, which experts at industry fear it will worsen as the pandemic continues.
Island Nursing Home board chair Ronda Dodge said on Wednesday a podcast from the Island Health and Wellness Foundation the facility is expected to lose 13 contract workers by September 22. That will leave the house with 780 hours, or 20 full-time employee positions, unfilled, requiring 50 percent of residents to be fired if the positions are not filled. State rules require one direct care provider for five residents during the day and one for every 15 patients on the night shift.
âDoes this mean that the patients are all at risk? No, âDodge said, adding that the sudden loss of staff would trigger an emergency closure status allowing the facility to place residents still in the house more quickly. Dodge also said some refused the placement, saying they didn’t think the house was closing.
The home cited long-standing challenges in attracting staff and finding them housing, which forced it to rely on contract workers. The community has since tried to rally around the house, with local lawmakers calling for a solution and residents unsure of where their loved ones might end up.
It was one of 96 long-term care facilities in get a price for houses documenting the pandemic losses, according to Jackie Farwell, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, but it is not known what the house received.
The department met with nursing home leaders to discuss ways to prevent the shutdown, such as working with families to transfer patients to other facilities or allowing the residential population to decline, Farwell said. Dodge said on Friday the home would not be able to meet staffing needs, even with a reduction in the number of patients.
Employees who wish to stay have been offered a voluntary retention award agreement guaranteeing up to eight hours of extra pay if they work 40 hours per week, although they lose the allowance if they have unforeseen absences. , are dismissed or resign. It requires signatories to agree not to make âdefamatory or derogatory statementsâ on social media or other media regarding management and staff, the closure itself or the operations of the establishment.
The signatories are waiving their right to a jury trial over any disputes arising from signing the agreement, and the house has said it will stop providing the benefit and may sue any employee who violates the no-denigration clause. .
The facilities typically offer retention bonuses to the top-paying staff to keep them, said David Webbert, an employment lawyer and managing partner at Johnson, Webbert & Garvan, who said it was unusual for they are offered to work at the base. Staff. He said the agreement would need to be amended to include a good faith criticism clause, otherwise workers could be discouraged from coming forward for fear of retaliation.
“Things can happen from here [the closing], “he said.” The non-bashing agreement does not take into account the importance of employee feedback. “
Dodge pushed back, saying it was intended to discourage “unnecessary, inaccurate and misinformed discussions on social media and elsewhere that neither serve nor protect the interests of residents, families and staff.” She said language for employees to participate in forensic investigations and court cases is meant to encompass whistleblowing.
An Island Nursing Home staff member, who agreed to speak to the Bangor Daily News on condition of anonymity, said the deal made them “uncomfortable” and feared they would be held accountable after having spoken openly about the closing of the house. They said they were “blinded” by the closure after management told them two days before the establishment would remain open.
âWe knew the staffing was bad,â she said. “But they never mentioned that we might have to shut down because of it.”