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Pastor's address from May 2018 Life Together newsletter

As Messenger House closes,
is there a way to go forward?

Dear Bethanians (and North Kitsap County),

Neighborly greetings to you on a sunny April day. I am writing reflections I shared with our congregation this morning in worship, reflections arising from the article in the Kitsap Sun (4/20/18) reporting the closing of Messenger House Care Center on Bainbridge Island. The facts reported in that article leave me deeply concerned for the Bainbridge community. Messenger House

  • provides 96 beds for skilled nursing care;
  • employs roughly 75 full- and part-time
    employees;
  • has most of its residents covered by
    Medicaid;
  • has provided good-quality care; and
  • is located on a 6-acre campus of some
    historical significance.

This report leaves me wondering what will become of this property, but moreover what will come of our community’s ability to address the skilled nursing care needs of our island, especially given our aging population. I am grateful for the facilities that bring health and dignity to those who require (or prefer) assisted living – I know about these facilities because I visit them often. Bainbridge Island Health and Rehab services those in need of skilled nursing care, but its facility is limited.

What Bainbridge Island is left to ponder is where our frail and elderly might now reside as they require skilled nursing care. This question is compounded by the reality that so many in this population are resource deprived and will look to Medicaid to assist them, a program whose reimbursements challenge all providers, especially for-profit enterprises lacking staffing. No one wants to see our elderly needing to move away from the community where they have lived, where they likely have family, and where they have communities of support (congregations, friendship circles, Island Volunteer Caregivers, etc.). I visit parishioners in facilities in Poulsbo, Silverdale and Bremerton, many who are displaced from Bainbridge Island due to financial constraints. They find good care, but they are not at home, among friends.

This is more a lament than offering a solution. My prayers are extended to the residents and staff of Messenger House, as well as their families. At the same time, however, I wonder if we cannot somehow imagine a creative strategy moving forward, as an island community of care and compassion, maintaining this historic and beautiful property, and serving the neediest of our residents.

What if, a consortium of funders (Bainbridge Community
Foundation, the city of Bainbridge Is land, the Bainbridge Island land Trust, our faith communities) purchased theland to place it in perpetuity in the Bainbridge Island Land Trust, with the condition that it be used to serve the long-term care needs of our community. What if, we explore options to manage the facility, looking perhaps to non-profits to provide such expertise. What if, we advocate for more appropriate (higher!) reimbursements form Medicaid. What if … because if not we will lose a resource critical to the health and well-being of our community.

Pastor Paul