As most everyone knows by now, the Visiting Nurse Service, the former nursing agency of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, announced in March that it would be closing its doors effective June 30. The Vineyard Nursing Association, upon learning of the unexpected closing, began working with Sharon Claus-Zanger, the VNS clinical director, and others to create a plan to move care for 70 patients to Vineyard Nursing Association home care by the end of June. Sandie Corr-Dolby, the VNA clinical director, worked closely with Sharon to ensure patient needs were met, the transition went smoothly, and all who needed home care on the Island were served.
We are happy to report that with the admission of six patients on June 25 from the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission Home Care Assistance Program by the Vineyard Nursing Association, the VNA has officially and successfully completed the transition of all clients from the recently closed Visiting Nurse Service to our care.
I want to thank Sandie, Sharon and all those who worked so hard over the past few months to make this difficult step a smooth one for those who need home care on the Island. You have demonstrated professionalism, dedication and cooperation during this difficult and rapid transition.
The transition plan called for moving Medicare patients over to VNA as they were discharged from VNS. Elder Service patients receiving assistance at home under the office of elder affairs were admitted to the VNA program at the rate of 10 clients per month, and disabled clients started VNA care effective July 1, the start of the VNA contract for care with the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.
Since the March announcement, the VNA began to hire staff from VNS to help with the increased workload. At times the VNS staff was working for both agencies to facilitate the changes. I am pleased to say that we have now hired 11 former VNS staff including nurses, therapists, aides and administrators to work in full, part-time, or per diem positions.
In addition to home care services, the VNA has been awarded contracts to provide public health services to the towns which include nurse clinics, blood pressure clinics, home visits, and an array of other required public health services. Many of the towns were formerly serviced by the VNS. The VNA is now servicing town contracts for West Tisbury, Chilmark, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven. Nicole Barlett, a VNA nurse, is managing our expanded town programs.
We have been challenged further by the timing of the VNS closure in light of our own, very successful, private care service which launched just before the VNS announcement. Demand for services has left our staff literally working day and night to ensure all client requests are met.
Since the beginning of the year, we have hired 45 new people to help us provide care for our former and new home care clients, our town contracts and our new private care services. And the hiring continues at a steady pace. Our case load has risen from 120 patients daily to over 290 and our current rate of annual visits is approaching 30,000 — up from 15,000 last year.
Doubling our growth in the past 90 days, while meeting all our clients’ needs has been a daunting challenge. We succeeded only because of the dedicated efforts of our entire workforce, including the professional and paraprofessional staff, the management team, and the administrative team.
While we have worked diligently to accommodate patient needs first, the VNS closure has required many changes within our organization. Now that all patients are being cared for, we are starting to address our operational and financial needs. Our next big step is yet another move, after only two years at our current location, to a larger office space. I am happy to report that we have found new quarters, just up State Road in Vineyard Haven, and we will be moving in late August, as soon as renovations are complete. Our growth in response to the changing service need has also had significant financial consequence, as we will have to spend close to $150,000 of unbudgeted funds to meet our new obligations. We will continue to manage these challenges, and are grateful to the many donors who continue to support us through their generous contributions and attendance at our fund-raising events.
Our work is never done and we are continuing to grow, but I want to personally thank all our employees in helping to make this very difficult transition successful. I also want to thank the community for their ongoing support and recognition of the difficult, challenging, and necessary work that we do.
Robert Tonti is chief executive officer for the Vineyard Nursing Association.