A nursing home in rural Maine has found a new partner after a difficult few weeks battling COVID-19 after months fighting the pandemic, which has killed more than a dozen of its residents.
At the end of last year, about half of the staff at Island Nursing Home on Deer Isle came down with COVID-19.
That’s about 38 people, the nursing home’s CEO, Matthew Trombley, said in a Wednesday interview with NECN and NBC10 Boston. At that point, a call was made to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to ask for assistance to avoid having to move residents out of the home.
“We had reached out even prior to our outbreak and notified them that we were going to need assistance with staffing,” Trombley said.
The state CDC’s response resulted in a phone call between the agency, the nursing home and the University of New England. Out of that conversation came a plan: bring nursing and medical students from UNE up to Deer Isle during the winter break to fill in.
The students gained real-world experience they otherwise would not have had during the pandemic while the nursing home would get some of the help it needed to function until its staff was healthier.
“As I was driving the two-and-a-half hours there, I was thinking, ‘okay, how can I make a difference?’” said Munib Abid, a 22-year-old nursing student who signed up to help as part of the partnership.
“I felt it was my duty to give them hope,” he explained.
Through work like helping to turn people who were confined to beds and checking vital signs, Abid and his classmates learned and made an impact with energy and smiles.
They worked 40 hours each week and ate and slept near Island Nursing Home, with room and board it provided.
The time spent with residents was visibly impactful, Abid said: “There are a lot of stories, but one person that stuck out to me was a resident that actually cried that I was about to leave.”
“I could see tears in her eyes and she told me, ‘It’s not going to be the same when you guys leave,’” he added.
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Although the UNE students who were at Island Nursing Home over winter break are no longer there, the relationship between the facility and school is not over at all.
“We’re going to work on a model so that people can have bona fide clinical education there,” said Dr. Jennifer Morton, the director of UNE’s nursing program.
In addition to the programming partnership, Island Nursing Home plans to employ a few students who graduate from the university later this year.
As for Abid, he will graduate as a nurse this summer and says the knowledge and perspective he gained from experiencing what it was like learning during a historic pandemic will be invaluable.