While many nonprofits across the nation are cutting staff and programs due to the weak economy and rising operational costs, the Vineyard Nursing Association over the past six months has gone in a different direction, nearly doubling the number of patients under its care while hiring new staff and expanding its programs.

The increase in the number of patients and employees is due to the association’s decision earlier this year to absorb the patients from the now-defunct Visiting Nurse Service operated by Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. In March, Community Services announced it would close the nursing service on June 30.

Upon hearing the news of the pending shutdown, officials from the Vineyard Nursing Association took rapid action to integrate the approximately 70 patients suddenly at risk of losing their home health care.

As a result, the past few months have not been easy for the association. The organization has had to work to ease the concerns of new patients while also stringing together a patchwork of full-time, part-time and per-diem employees to fill the added demand for services.

But with the admission of six patients late last month from the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission Home Care Assistance Program, the association has now successfully completed the transition of all clients formerly under the care of the Visiting Nurse Service.

“This has been a trying period, but a tremendously fulfilling one,” said Robert Tonti, chief executive officer for the Vineyard Nursing Association. “In the long run, taking on the additional patients and staff will make us stronger . . . but right now every day brings new challenges.”

The most immediate needs caused by the association’s decision to take on the added patients are financial. To accommodate the increases in staff and programs, the association will move to a bigger operational center next month after only two years at its current location. The larger space on State Road in Vineyard Haven comes at a price, as the association will have to spend at least $150,000 in unbudgeted funds to meet its obligation.

Mr. Tonti said the association was projected to show a positive balance this year of approximately $25,000. But with the recent changes, the association is now expected to end the year with a deficit.

With the shortfall looming over the operation, Mr. Tonti said there is an especially pressing need that the association’s annual fundraiser — a clambake scheduled tomorrow evening at the Field Gallery Sculpture Park in West Tisbury — be a success.

“In the past we’ve always regarded the fundraiser as vital, this year it’s absolutely critical . . . it’s sort of a make-or-break event this year,” Mr. Tonti said.

As of yesterday, the association has sold approximately 125 tickets to the event. Last year they sold just under 200 tickets and raised approximately $50,000. Mr. Tonti said they should sell 50 more tickets for this year’s event to be considered a success, although there is room to accommodate as many as 75 to 100 more.

Mr. Tonti acknowledged that with the current financial state of the nation, some people may be reluctant to donate to charitable endeavors as they have in the past. But he also said most people understand the vital role the Vineyard Nursing Association plays in the lives of those they care for, and the association’s role has only grown more vital with the closure of the Visiting Nurse Service.

“People here who live on this Island and this community understand the work we do and why it is important,” he said.

Although Mr. Tonti is hard-pressed to admit it, that same sense of giving and community was apparent when the association came to the aid of the former patients of the nursing service earlier this year. While the association was under no obligation to take on the added patients, there was never any doubt the organization would provide care for those in need.

“It was the right thing to do. We felt we had an obligation to this community . . . we are never going to turn down people in need of care,” he said.

The increase in patients and staff has been substantial. The number of patients has increased from 140 to 290 in only a 6-month span, while the number of nurses has increased from 10 to 14 and the number of medical aides has expanded from 10 to 38. The association has also hired more physical, occupational and speech therapists, as well as additional social workers.

Mr. Tonti said there are signs the number of patients under the care of the association will only increase in the coming years.

“Overall our demographics are changing, both here on the Vineyard and across the country. We are living longer and we are staying in our homes longer . . the trend is for more people to receive health care in their homes,” he said, adding:

“Which is even more reason these fund-raisers are so critical,” he said.


The clambake to benefit the Vineyard Nursing Association takes place tomorrow, July 23, at 6 p.m. at the Field Gallery Sculpture Park in West Tisbury. The clambake will be prepared by the Martha’s Vineyard Clambake Company, with beverages provided by Our Market. Music is by Train Wreck and Vineyard Sound. Kenny Goldberg will run the live auction, along with special guest auctioneer Lenny Clarke.

Tickets are $125, while a reserved table for eight people is $800. Tickets are available at the Vineyard Nursing Association Development Office, by calling 508-696-0785, or visiting vineyardnursing.org or TicketsMV.com.