When Hilary Small is asked what separates the Deborah Lincoln House from other residential homes for the elderly in Maine, she said it comes down to one thing — family.
Hilary has served as the Belfast residential home executive director for a little more than a year. During her tenure, she has witnessed long-term elderly residents form close bonds with the staff to the point where they become a close-knit family.
For some of the elderly women residents, forming close relationships with their caregivers is a blessing because they sometimes do not have any family of their own.
“There is no other facility in Maine that is run like our home. We have been caring for women in the Belfast area since 1904,” Hilary points out.
The residential home was established in 1904 when Mrs. Deborah W. Lincoln provided a gift of $9,000 to create the home after she passed away.
The stately Victorian-style home is licensed by the state of Maine to care for six women, and they had four residents as of August 2021.
“The way that we take women in is unique,” Hilary explains.
All the residents have a private bedroom and bath and access to staff 24 hours a day.
Unlike other elderly residential facilities, Hilary said the Deborah Lincoln House does not bill the state of Maine or private insurance companies for levels of care, rent, and board. The financial side of the resident’s agreement is addressed when they are admitted, and self-pay residents pay for their services monthly.
The home is governed by a board of directors made up of Belfast area business leaders who deeply care about the home’s mission. They also use their financial acumen to ensure the home has enough annual revenue to stay in operation.
“We’ve been running the same way we have run this house for over 100 years. We’re one of the best kept secrets in Belfast,” Hilary says.
The Deborah Lincoln House currently employs eleven staff members, who are full-time, part-time, and supplemental.
“We have two part-time cooks, and they are here seven days per week. They do breakfast, dinner, and supper,” she says. “Our cooks pride themselves on preparing healthy, home-cooked meals that are catered to each resident.”
Hilary said they also have some staff members they still refer to as matrons who are on site 24 hours a day to dispense medications, care for the ladies, do assessments, and get residents to their medical appointments. These matrons are registered nurses, practical nurses, and CRMAs.
Women can reside at the home from age 60 up, Hilary said. The staff and board of directors also put great emphasis on whether a prospective resident will be a good fit for the small-knit community.
“We have let ladies live here with very little assets because we know they are a good fit for the home,” Hilary explains.
For women who fancy living in a Victorian house where their needs are met without any worry, life is pretty good at the Deborah Lincoln Home. Some residents have lived there for more than 30 years, well into their 90s, she adds.
In addition to the fellowship they enjoy with staff members, the ladies also enjoy excursions where a driver will take them to downtown Belfast or within the immediate vicinity. They will also take longer trips to Acadia National Park. Those trips were curtailed during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 but are slowly making a comeback.
Asked what she enjoys the most about her job, Hilary says, “I just like listening to the stories these ladies have to tell. They are all so very different and they all have so much to offer.”
“Years ago, the extended family was so important and in recent years we have moved away from it. The elders have a lot to offer and if we just take the time to listen it is very rewarding,” she says.
“It’s a family here. Each matron who cares for the residents, along with each cook, housekeeper, each person has a very special relationship with the residents. There is a level of respect for these ladies that every single staff member has,” Hilary explains.
In some ways, the Deborah Lincoln House practices elder care that may have been more common at the turn of the last century and can serve as a model to show all of us how to take better care of the elderly people in our lives, she said.
“Really what we’re here for is we want to make the whole experience better and peaceful. This is my grandmother, this is my mom, that is how everybody feels who works here. The amount of love that we have for each and every lady is not measurable,” Hilary observed.
Hilary believes that Deborah Lincoln House has a bright future because the community appreciates the services provided, and the home’s reputation precedes them. A true testament may come from some of the staff members themselves, Hilary said.
“We have had several staff members who came and lived here after they retired,” she notes.