On Feb. 3 the Maine Islands Coalition held its quarterly meeting at the Island Institute and discussed island health care. Finding affordable, quality health care is complicated by ferry schedules, coastal weather and a lack of on-island services. The ferry or mailboat in February is the last place somebody who is sick with the flu wants to be! Add in the health needs of the islands’ burgeoning elderly population, and the beginnings of a real crisis emerge.

Gary Delong from the Maine Sea Coast Mission reviewed the results of an Island Health Care Survey the Mission conducted in 2005, the first part of a two-step initiative to identify and address island health care issues. Nurse Sharon Daley also discussed the telemedicine program that transforms the Mission’s boat, SUNBEAM, into a floating doctor’s office by connecting patients with physicians through video conferencing. This project has been especially helpful for the smaller, more isolated Downeast islands.

Some larger island communities have successfully combined affordable senior housing and community health care facilities, as Jerry Garman and Julia Wilcock, representatives from the Volunteers of America Fay Garman House on Peaks Island, related to the Coalition. Maura Michaels from Boardman Cottage, an eldercare facility on Islesboro, also related her experiences with eldercare, both on Islesboro and at the Ivan Calderwood Home on Vinalhaven.

Coalition members were particularly concerned with the funding resources and management needs of these health care centers. The guests indicated that all three facilities rely on fundraising efforts in addition to government

In addition to their health care discussion, coalition members welcomed several legislators to the meeting. Rep. Hannah Pingree (D-North Haven) gave an overview of the current legislative session. Sen. Christine Savage briefed the Coalition on L.D. 1738, a proposal to provide free ferry service for individuals suffering from life-threatening, catastrophic illness. Rep. Leila Percy discussed the efforts of the committee, which is writing legislation concerning L.D. 1972, An Act to Preserve Maine’s Working Waterfront, to ensure that the bill adequately provides for local fishermen. The coalition also connected via conference call with Donna Damon, a Chebeague resident serving on the Cumberland Town Council to discuss Chebeague Island’s attempt to secede from the Town of Cumberland, and authorized a statement in support of Chebeague’s secession.

The meeting concluded with updates on the ongoing issues of affordable housing and homeowner’s insurance and a subdivision debate on Islesboro.

Cyrus Moulton is an Island Institute Fellow in the Cranberry Isles.