ISLESBORO — The newly constituted Health and Safety Building Committee had a virtual tour of the Public Safety, Fire Department and Ambulance offices at the Town Office, as well as the Islesboro Health Center, which occupies part of the same building, Dec. 29, 2021. After the tour, the committee held its first official meeting.

The virtual tour was an opportunity for town and health center personnel to demonstrate to committee members their need for more, and better-organized, space.

Beginning in the small space shared by Public Safety and Fire departments, Fred Porter, director of Public Safety, talked about the need for more space for training, offices and equipment storage. Porter shares an office with another person, and there is not enough room for social distancing, he said. Fire Chief Murton Durkee’s office is a closet-like space that used to be a meat locker in the days when the building housed a grocery store before the town took it over in 1991.

In addition, Public Safety needs an interview room and an evidence room that meets criminal justice standards, Porter said. Right now, there is no private place to conduct police interviews. With three new people about to start, the three departments will have a total staff of 25.

Durkee summed up, saying, “We feel like a broken wheel that just keeps reiterating the same story.”

Moving to the health center, the tour was taken up by nurse practitioner Linda Wentworth, who said around 10 people, including employees and patients, are present on a given day. The small facility is very crowded, between patients and staff, with items stored wherever there is a spare inch of space and staff making do to get their work done. For example, Wentworth said when she needs to dictate patient notes, she frequently uses an empty exam room, because having an officemate present is distracting. She said the crowding adds to already-high levels of stress for employees.

The employee kitchen shares space with the lab, the room divided off with orange tape. Supplies of all kinds crowd the lab shelves. Lab and kitchen each have their own refrigerator and sink in the tiny room.

Owen Hall, physician’s assistant, led the next part of the tour, saying, “We’re pretty well packed in and we’re utilizing all of our space,” as he indicated the area in a hallway designated for charting. Responding to a question, he said electronic charts are not used much, though the clinic has access to the Epic system through Pen Bay Medical Center on a read-only basis.

What used to be a waiting room has been turned into office space, as patients are now asked to wait in their cars as a COVID-19 precaution.

The combined exam and treatment room also houses some of the clinic’s lab equipment, such as an autoclave, as well as oxygen tanks and supplies.

Hall noted that the crowded conditions extend even to the public restroom, where supplies and laundry facilities are housed.

The facility has a COVID treatment trailer behind the clinic, which can be sanitized after use.

Following the tour, Select Board Chair Gabe Pendleton called the committee meeting to order. Members quickly passed a remote participation policy so those who could not attend in person could take part via Zoom. Next, the group elected Lauren Bruce chair of the committee and Jennifer West secretary. The position of vice chair was left vacant for the time being. Bruce took over conducting the meeting from that point. There was discussion but no further action was taken.

Bruce told The Republican Journal Dec. 30, 2021, that the committee’s charge from the Select Board was to investigate and report to the board on the feasibility of building a new health center on one of two sites to relieve overcrowding and also to look into remodeling the present health center to accommodate the Public Safety, Fire and Ambulance departments. If necessary, she said, the three departments could move into the vacated clinic space and any remodeling could be done afterward.

A third part of the charge is to study the feasibility of building a fire substation on the northern end of the island in case of a storm surge or other conditions that might prevent volunteers from being able to respond from the main station.

The preferred site for the new clinic, she said, is across the parking lot from the Town Office building, while the alternative site is behind the building.

One of the first things Bruce would like the committee to do is survey residents to assess their familiarity with the existing Public Safety offices, health center and Town Office, which all share one building. That would give the committee an idea of how much education it needs to do before presenting a proposal to townspeople.

Once 2A architects LLC of Rockport, the firm hired to create a plan for the new clinic, finishes the plan, it will come before a town meeting for a vote. The architects are expected to return to the island to meet with clinic staff and separately with the committee around the end of January, Bruce said. The date has not been set yet.

If the town supports the plan for a new clinic, “We think we can do very well on the fundraising end of it,” she said, adding that one or two private donations have already been received. In addition, the town would seek federal funding for the new facility.

Bruce said she wants to have one or more video chat question-and-answer sessions for residents where they can ask questions of public safety and health center personnel, as well as of her committee in order to get the word out about the developing plans.

“I would be wildly ecstatic if the town got really behind us,” she said, adding that she thinks the plans will have residents’ support.

The next committee meeting will be announced later in January.

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