When Covid closed businesses and kept us at home, many of us powered up our devices and started to connect on Zoom, FaceTime and in other ways. We attended work meetings from our living rooms, had virtual game nights, and talked to our health providers in our pajamas. But for people without a computer, iPad, cell phone, or stable internet, these connections were impossible. Many were left isolated without a way to reach friends and family. For people living on Maine’s unbridged islands, this separation from the outside world is not new but for those who could not connect, suddenly the gulf was much deeper. Staff aboard the Mission’s Sunbeamnoticed which islanders were being left behind and took action.
Through a grant from the Celia Lipton Farris and Victor W. Farris Foundation, Sharon Daley, RN, Director of Island Health, provided nine islanders without an internet connection with iPads and either a hotspot or another way to connect so they could attend virtual medical appointments. They then paired each recipient with another resident who would provide support tech help. While the iPads have helped bridge the connectivity gap for islanders, they are also providing each person an opportunity to do things they have never been able to do before.
Leland K. Small, who lives on Isle au Haut, calls himself tech adverse. He has never owned a cellphone or a laptop, but when Sharon approached him about an iPad he agreed. “Now that I am getting older, I see the use for an iPad,” Leland says. “I wanted to exercise my brain and it’s been a useful tool.” While he is still learning the basics, he is looking forward to the day where he can watch videos about how to make fixes to his boat.
Leland will also have a doctor’s appointment in a few weeks using the iPad. This means he no longer must worry about taking the mail boat and finding a way to get to his appointments. “Living on an island, going any distance is difficult. You take the mailboat and it has a schedule. If you miss it ‘uh-oh,’” he adds.
The iPads and the ability to set up appointments have eliminated the hurdles many islanders face when getting healthcare. And for those who want to attend AA meetings or other support groups, they can easily connect to meetings both near and far. As people learn how to use this new technology Sharon can already see their worlds slowly changing. “Access to services via iPads means more than connections to health care. It means connections to the mainland, family, and friends. It allows buying of needed supplies instead of an expensive trip off island. I am so proud of people who have rescinded to learn and profit from something new. These devices permit continued learning, access to resources like buying online, and an increased sense of autonomy and control of one’s life.”
And while the program started by giving iPads to older islanders, a few iPads were given to younger residents and Sharon is also working to provide an iPad to a clinic on Cliff Island. “The provider can then bring the iPad out with them into the community and connect patients to a doctor in Portland.”
Leland is slowly learning more about the iPad and he is getting more comfortable with it. When a tech-savvy teenage resident recently went through each app with him, he took copious notes and is excited about what he will be able to do, “I think it’s greatly beneficial. It’s going to be extremely useful for me.”
As the temperatures dip, we bundle up, turn up our thermostats, and brace ourselves for a long winter. But with the price of home heating oil almost $1.50 more a gallon than it was last year, many of us are facing sticker shock when getting our bills. For people already struggling to make ends meet, these large expenses often can mean the choice between buying food or heating their homes. Washington County already has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the state. And faced with these choices, many more decide to skip their next meal. Because of this increased and continuing need the Mission pantry is expanding its hours to be open Tuesday through Friday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“We have opted to expand the food pantry hours to make it more accessible to community members,” explains Interim Downeast Director Jenny Jones. “We noticed patrons needing access beyond the hours we originally had, and we have the capacity to meet those needs.” In 2022, the Mission’s food pantry served 611 unique households. On average every month the pantry serves around 450 individuals and the number of people visiting the pantry multiple times a month has increased in the past year.
This increase in patrons is due in part to an increased need in the community; however, the Mission also wants the pantry to be a more welcoming and user-friendly place. By turning it into a low-barrier, choice pantry, the grocery store-like environment lets users browse the shelves and take what they need. There are also no limits to how much a patron can put into their shopping bag. Allowing visitors to evaluate their own needs—based on their home life, family size, and meal routines—instills independence and a greater sense of autonomy. The increased hours also give pantry users more freedom to drop in their own schedule. Parents can shop after picking up their children after school and seniors do not have to worry about scheduling appointments during pantry hours.
Mission staff also chat with patrons and get to know them, sometimes setting aside food they know someone enjoys and finding out if they need other support. If Megan Smith, Food Security and Sustainability Programs Coordinator, finds out that a family is living in an older house that needs updates, she can direct them to the Mission’s Housing Rehabilitation program; or if their child attends the Mission’s EdGE afterschool program and may need help paying a bill, she can refer them to Stephanie Moores, Community and Family Engagement Program Manager.
This holistic approach to food security has given the Mission greater insight into what is most important to the community it serves as well as identify areas for improvement in its programming
For more information on the food pantry and the Mission’s food security programs here.
Outside the picturesque wooden church, the night air is cold, and winter winds are howling. Inside, the air is warmed by candlelight and the sounds of children, young and old, waiting, with anticipation, for Christmas to arrive. One of the ways islanders know that Christmas is not so far away is the Sunbeam’s arrival on the island. The Sunbeam, and her crew, have been visiting Long Island, or Frenchboro as it is commonly known, for decades. Each year, the boat arrives just days before Christmas, and the chaplain hands out packages wrapped in white parchment paper, tied with red butcher’s string. This season’s gift giving will take place during the island’s Christmas service.
“Handing out Christmas presents is one of the many meaningful things I get to do for the Mission,” says Douglas Cornman, the Sunbeam’s current chaplain and the Mission’s Director of Island Outreach. “Not only do I get to witness the excitement on each child’s face as I hand them a gift (and often receive a huge hug in return), I have the privilege of listening to stories from parents, grandparents, and sometimes even great grandparents who also received gifts from the Mission and delivered by the Sunbeam. These gifts are the most poignant example of the Mission’s legacy on the outer islands.” The Mission has been handing out gifts to island residents and the families of lighthouse keepers since 1905. “I have watched the eyes of the saltiest of fishermen fill with tears as they tell me about the gifts they received as kids,” recounts Douglas. “Some islanders relate that the gifts from the Mission were the only gifts they received during years when fishing was poor and their families struggled.”
Douglas is the liaison between the Mission’s Christmas Program, which is housed at the Mission’s Downeast Campus in Cherryfield, Washington County, and the islands’ Christmas elves (volunteers who gather information and create lists on the islands, each year). The Mission provides gifts for nine islands who maintain year-round communities. This year, Douglas will collaborate with elves from Islesford, Great Cranberry Island, Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, Matinicus, Monhegan, Islesboro, Vinalhaven, and off the coast of Deer Isle, Eagle Island. Children under the age of eighteen and island elders, 75 years and older receive gifts. Most gifts for kids contain a handmade hat and mittens, a book, and a wooden toy or puzzle. Gifts for elders often contain a lap blanket and books to help ease the physical and emotional chill of long winter evenings in front of the woodstove.
“More frequently than not, toys are set aside when the kids open their gifts, and they go straight to the hat and mittens,” says Douglas. “It amazes me when they do this. They love their new hat and mittens and want to know how Santa knew their favorite color. Their wonder and amazement helps to keep the magic of Christmas alive.”
Director of Island Health Sharon Daley, RN, started working at the Mission in 2000 and will retire after 22 years of working with the island communities. When she joined the Mission, Sharon initially focused on setting up the home health and telehealth program. However, she immediately noticed mental health services were needed and worked with mental health care providers to set up telehealth appointments on the Sunbeam. One of the providers she connected with was Dr. Diehl Snyder, a psychiatrist who led the behavioral health center at Mount Desert Island Hospital. Dr. Snyder was given the Sunbeam award for his participation in Mission programming and commitment to islanders, and he currently serves on the Mission’s Board of Directors. Dr. Snyder shared his memories of Sharon in this message to the Mission.
“When my wife, Susan, and I moved to Maine in 2003, I began work at the MDI Hospital Behavioral Health Center in Bar Harbor. We offered care to any person who requested our services and could drive to our outpatient office. Within the first year of my Maine work I received a call from Sharon at the Maine Seacoast Mission asking if I would consider taking care of persons who lived on outer islands via telemedicine connections. Since I had done similar work with isolated rural Pennsylvania patients, I said yes. She made calls to many other mainland healthcare providers and got similar responses. Who could say no to Sharon?
Sharon then invited me to come aboard the Sunbeam. She showed me the boat’s medical room with its telemedicine equipment. Her dream was to have matching telemedicine equipment in our MDI Hospital Behavioral Health Center. When the Sunbeam made its scheduled visits to the Islands, patients could receive psychiatric evaluations, follow-up medication supervision, and psychotherapy without the burden of traveling to the mainland. Through her dogged determination and caring persistence, she turned that dream into reality!
Becoming part of Sharon’s living, working, telemedicine system which provided health care to these island communities, has been one of the most satisfying activities of my professional work. Many of these islanders did not know where to turn for help. Sharon would listen to their problems and gently, Sunbeam visit by Sunbeam visit, she guided them to the appropriate healthcare providers via telemedicine. Sharon was always in the medical room on the boat and would introduce the patient and their problem to the practitioner on the other end of the telemedicine connection. She coached these patients on formulating treatment plans that were workable within their Island lifestyle as they consulted with their telehealth providers on the mainland. Sharon was the glue that held this amazing, floating, rural, healthcare system together!
In 2010, psychiatric resident physicians from the University of Pennsylvania began spending two-week rural, behavioral health rotations at MDI Hospital each summer. Sharon invited each of these resident physicians to spend a day with her on the Sunbeam observing real rural Maine psychiatric care on her beloved islands. Every resident reported that their time with Sharon on the Sunbeam was one of the highlights of their Maine medical experiences.
Sharon has been an inspiring, caring, patient centered colleague that helped me to take better care of all my patients.”
In her time at the Maine Seacoast Mission, Sharon Daley’s work as the Director of Island Health has landed her in the pages of The Washington PostandNewsweek, and on TV in a national Walgreens ad. But to the islanders she serves, Sharon is just Sharon: a confidante, friend, a fellow islander, and someone they can trust. Sharon is retiring after 22 years at the Mission at the end of the year.
Mission President John Zavodny says, “Sharon Daley has made her mark on both the islands and the Mission. She has always provided a high level of health care and personal support and she does it a perfect blend of candor, compassion, and smarts. Speaking of leaving a mark, Sharon gives a pain-free shot. Ask anyone who has been vaccinated by her.”
Sharon says she is most proud of the connection she formed with the islanders. When she started with the Mission, she knew Sunbeam’sreputation within the island community, and being a member of the crew, meant people were more likely to trust her. Sharon came aboard the Sunbeam in 2000 to start the telemedicine program at the Mission. Sharon was tasked with connecting the islands to mainland hospitals and clinics through new telemedicine equipment.
Michael Johnson, the Sunbeam’sCaptain, who started the same day as Sharon as the Sunbeam’s engineer (though she was hired five minutes earlier, as she likes to point out), worked with her to get the telemedicine equipment up and running. “She was struggling with the technology of it, and I was new on the boat and wanted to help her. Between the two of us, we kind of figured out the whole telemedicine thing in the beginning. When you are out on an island there is no tech support, there is no IT person that can come, so you are basically winging it. That was her signature program in the beginning.”
Reflecting on her time with the Mission, Sharon shares, “I didn’t start at the Mission with pre-conceived notions of the work needing to be done. I went in looking for the needs that existed. The Mission has always allowed me to do that.” What started as telehealth morphed into home visits because some people were homebound. She says, “We started with primary care, but it became clear there was a need for behavioral health.” Once telehealth services were in place, she recognized people couldn’t easily get blood work due to challenges of getting on and off island. “The Mission integrated lab draws into the Island Health program, and then the need for flu shots came up. So, we started doing that. Then we started a WIC program.” Sharon’s role evolved as more needs were uncovered. While many aspects of delivering healthcare are different than on the mainland, Sharon’s commitment to her patients and the islands has never wavered. She continued to learn and adapted to the changes that come with living on an island.
“She really cares deeply about people, how they are doing, and what they are doing. She works with them so that they can be healthy, happy, and content,” says Douglas Cornman, Director of Island Outreach. “She does this tirelessly. I have never seen Sharon say no when someone needs her help or her guidance.” Mike shares that Sharon’s job truly is 24/7 and that she will always answer a call from a patient, even in the middle of the night. The relationships she has built with islanders means many come to her in their toughest moments. “They know that someone cares for them, looking out for them, even when they don’t want to hear what she has to say,” Douglas says. “She will tell you the hard stuff, but she does it in a way that people know she has their best interest in mind.”
Over the years, Sharon has focused on all aspects of living and aging on an island. Part of her work was founding and facilitating the Island Eldercare Network. The network brings together island residents and healthcare providers who work with elders on the islands to share resources, network, and continue to aid those who wish to stay on island. When Sharon saw there was a need to connect islanders with mental health resources, she contacted local providers and facilitated telemedicine visits on the Sunbeam. As people struggled with addiction, she was instrumental in getting Narcan stations set up and connecting island residents to AA meetings. When the Covid pandemic struck, Sharon worked with the Maine Center for Disease Control to ensure islanders had access to vaccinations work later featured in newspapers across the country. The national attention never changed her dedication to the work she did or how she approached it.
Two nurses who have worked with her over the years on the Sunbeam, Maureen Giffin, RN, and Peggy Akers, RN, both say Sharon formed relationships most nurses do not get to have with their patients. “Because of her longevity and ability to build relationships, she has been a trusted person islanders confide in. She made the time to sit down with people and be a listening board. Whatever they were going through whether it is a loss in their families or trauma, she was there.” Maureen says, “She’s been on the islands for so long that she’s seen babies born and grow up. These are people she sees coming to clinics and during the holidays.” Peggy adds, “You don’t often get to be an integral part of someone’s life journey. But in her role, she has. She has built connections with people. She’s the epitome of everything that is good about nursing! “
Douglas and Mike both say that they will miss Sharon’s humor aboard the Sunbeam, her ability to add levity to their time on the boat and how deeply she cared for the crew that she worked with. They shared stories of the way she put people at ease and showed up for both the crew and her patients time after time. Sharon herself says, “The Sunbeam family is a boat family. We get to be a part of the community. We’re a part of the islands’ family. We’re a safe space, a respite. We’ll be on island and say, ‘Ok, I’m going to go home,’ and we’re talking about the boat. We have learned to live together, laugh together.”
When asked what she’s most proud of in her tenure with the Mission, she points to the Covid clinics, but also to her relationships with the people who call the islands home. “If someone is having a problem, I want to know it and sometimes that means being available on nights and weekends. Helping people transition throughout their lives is meaningful in their lives and for me. Be it setting up hospice care or working with agencies to assist in providing services, having a relationship with a patient requires their trust. That has been most rewarding.”
With Christmas just around the corner, the Mission’s elves are hard at work making sure that they get presents to families and community members throughout Hancock and Washington Counties. Stephanie Moores, Community and Family Engagement Program Manager, asks that gifts are mailed by Saturday, Dec. 10 or dropped off at the Mission before Friday, Dec. 16 to make sure the elves have enough time to distribute the presents.
Items ordered online from the Mission’s Amazon Christmas wish list will be shipped directly to the Mission. A full Christmas wish list can be found here and items on the list can be sent to the addresses below.