ISLESBORO — The Health & Safety Building Committee held a question-and-answer session on Zoom Jan. 26 so residents could hear from Islesboro Health Center Director Dorie Henning about why the clinic’s current space is no longer adequate, what she would like to see in a new facility and ask questions. Committee Chairman Lauren Bruce began the meeting, then invited Henning to speak.

She said when she first started at IHC eight years ago, the clinic felt, “cozy, but also small.” Since then, the space has ceased to meet the needs of staff and patients as the clinic’s services and patient roster have grown.

Henning noted that while the pandemic has not caused the need for more and differently configured space, “it has illuminated it” — working in tight quarters, staff worry about infecting one another with COVID-19, or becoming infected.

Clinic staff have been creative and resilient about making the best of the existing space, she said. They rented a container they refer to as “the annex,” where they take blood samples and process COVID tests. There is also a trailer where they see COVID patients that can be thoroughly sanitized inside after a patient leaves. These workarounds leave much to be desired, Henning said, because they are used by just one clinician and one at a time. If a patient should need the assistance of more than one person, it would take time to get someone, and could result in an infected patient’s entering the main clinic.

While the former waiting room has been turned into work space for the clinic’s medical assistant — patients now call from their cars upon arrival and are escorted from the door to an examining room — sometimes people do have to wait there, which is “not ideal for privacy,” when the assistant has to call patients, Henning said.

She described other “privacy challenges,” including the fact that the two exam rooms are on the main hallway and conversations going on in them can be overheard, staff sometimes have to share the two provider offices and the file room, while it has a door that locks, is visible to patients during the workday.

Henning would like to see at least two more exam rooms as well as space for dental care, physical therapy and specialist offices in a new clinic. She also wants a designated space for equipment awaiting sterilization. Right now, the lab shares space with the staff kitchen, the two areas demarcated by a piece of red tape, she said.

As the population of the island has grown and ferry tickets have become more expensive, more people have asked the clinic to be their primary care provider, Henning noted. In addition, a staff member goes on every ambulance call; the clinic also cares for residents of Boardman Cottage, an eight-bed eldercare facility; and it coordinates with Islesboro Central School, which lacks a full-time school nurse.

The director said this moment is a “wonderful opportunity to look at what we’re doing, how do we continue to expand services and the health of our community?”

When the floor was opened to questions, someone asked when residents would see the first designs from Rockport architectural firm 2A Architects. Bruce replied that she expected the designs this summer, but no firm date had been set.

Another questioner asked whether the new clinic would include space for mental health services, to which Henning answered, “Absolutely.” She said she would like to hire a psychiatric nurse practitioner, adding that for now, the clinic can offer counseling only by phone.

Also needed, she said, is more support for people battling drug and alcohol dependence.

In answer to a question about how care would be affected if residents vote down the proposal for a new clinic, she said it takes a toll on clinic staff to work under the current conditions. Just keeping the space clean with ice, sand and mud outside is hard. Working in a space that is inadequate “add another level of stress during a very stressful period,” she said. The lack of a plan for a new facility could also affect the clinic’s ability to recruit a replacement for Linda Wentworth, who is retiring in June.

At press time, a date for the committee’s next meeting had not been set, Bruce said.