Health care providers and residents of islands stretching from Cliff Island to Frenchboro walked through the door of the Southern Harbor House on North Haven, took off their shoes, grabbed a cup of tea and sat around a table to share their successes and struggles while learning from each other and experts in their field. The attendees, at this yearly retreat, are all part of the Mission’s Island Eldercare Network, which is a group that has come together to support island residents who wish to age in place.
This group has been instrumental for many of the attendees, Cheryl Crowley, who lives on Cliff Island says, “Because of this network, the islands have each embellished their services to elders or created services that never existed. It’s the sharing of ideas and encouragement that we give to one another that have made these differences.”
During the retreat they discuss issues that affect them and their residents, learn more from experts, and most importantly, network with others that understand the work they are doing. The group meets monthly on Zoom, but this time together in-person allows them to make deeper connections.
Maura Michael, the Administrator of Islesboro’s Boardman Cottage says the retreat is “a chance for a group of us in the same business—eldercare—to meet and share experiences. We talk about what is working and not working and to share ideas with each other.” She adds, “Some of us learn new things and some of us ask for ideas and opinions on how to manage different situations.”
This year’s retreat included talks by Judith Metcalf, Director of the University of New England Maine Geriatric Education Center, Maureen Giffin, a nurse who has worked directly with island communities, and Dr. Anand Viswanathan, Associate Director of Mass General Brigham Telestroke Program. In addition, attendees heard about changes in policy at the state level and engaged in discussions on fundraising and grants with the Mission’s Director of Advancement Erica Hutchinson.
Metcalf discussed the 4Ms of the Age-Friendly Movement and how participants could implement them to help their neighbors age in place. Dr. Viswanathan, who works directly with the Mission’s Director of Island Health, Sharon Daley, and does remote neurological work, gave updates on Covid. He also talked about the importance of telehealth, which while newly adopted by many during the pandemic, has been a lifeline for many islanders who often must travel long distances to receive care. Also, a key part of this retreat is the time providers have to meet one-on-one to have their questions answered by representatives from the State of Maine.
The day also gives the attendees time to regroup, discuss problems, get support, and learn from people who understand their situation. “The best part of the conference is when we get to share stories. Everyone has exceptional stories, some very emotional,” Michael says. “It also is a break away from the everyday and it is nice to know that everyone else has the same issues in eldercare. I come away very refreshed.”