If recent health data is accurate, suggesting that the rate of problem or binge drinking on the Vineyard significantly exceeds the nationwide averages, then it should come as no surprise that Vineyard House is bursting at the seams.
The grassroots program that runs three houses for men and women in the early stages of recovery from alcohol and drug addiction turns away applicants every week, placing them on a wait list until a bed becomes available.
The problem is, that can take months.
Demand is so great that Vineyard House has planned an ambitious expansion and will go before the Martha's Vineyard Commission next Thursday night seeking approval to construct a brand new 2.4-acre campus off Holmes Hole Road in Vineyard Haven.
"The most pressing reason for this new facility is that for the past three years, we've had full houses and constant waiting lists," said Vineyard House board member Sandy Broyard, who is also a mental health therapist in Chilmark. "When an applicant drops off the list, loses motivation, that can have tragic consequences."
Vineyard House currently runs two homes for men with a total of 17 beds and another home for women with seven beds. Both houses are in Oak Bluffs.
The plan that will come in front of the commission next week for review as a development of regional impact (DRI) calls for building two houses with a total of 39 beds, a nearly 60 per cent increase in capacity for residents. Vineyard House is in the process of buying a parcel of land behind the SBS building off State Road which abuts the old town landfill. The land is zoned for commercial use.
Ms. Broyard said the new location would also afford residents more privacy. The two men's houses sit on a main road.
The proposed women's facility will have 14 beds and include two rooms that would allow a mother to share quarters with her child.
"We've had to turn away a lot of women because we weren't able to accommodate children," said Dana Anderson, vice-president of the Vineyard House board of directors.
"A very important part of recovery is to be a responsible parent and to reconnect with your kids," Ms. Broyard said.
Both Ms. Anderson and Ms. Broyard spoke of the depth of the drug and alcohol problem on the Vineyard, how it manifests itself in mental illnesses such as depression and physical illnesses such as pancreatitis or gastrointestinal complications that may not be readily linked with drinking or drug use.
"We're aware of the stress on the health care system," said Ms. Anderson. "[An expanded Vineyard House] can only create a healthier community on the Vineyard."
Dr. Timothy Tsai, director of emergency services at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital, reported last month that the number of cases of patients treated annually at the hospital for alcohol or drug abuse has nearly quadrupled in the last three years from almost 200 cases in 2002 to just over 750 in the last year.
The Health Report of Martha's Vineyard, a comprehensive study completed last summer based on questionnaires answered by 1,054 full-time residents, found high rates of alcohol consumption on the Island. Of those surveyed, 15 per cent said they had five or more drinks in one sitting at least once a month in the preceding year, behavior which the federal Centers for Disease Control deem as excessive or binge drinking
According to the Vineyard health report, which cited figures from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), the rate for that kind of alcohol consumption across the country is 9.6 per cent.
When Vineyard House opened the doors of its first house in 1997, its founders were aware of the unique problems on the Island. "Island men and women would go off-Island for detox . . . or be treated at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital emergency room and return to a living environment and lifestyle where drugs and alcohol were present. The cycle of abuse would begin again," application materials submitted to the MVC state.
In the last seven and a half years, the three houses have been home and shelter to more than 200 people. Admission is limited to Island residents, who are permitted to stay as long as 18 months, with a recommended minimum stay of six months. Residents are also required to attend a daily 12-step meeting such as Alcoholics Anonymous and to be employed or doing volunteer work.
Vineyard House operates with no state or federal funding and relies on private donations. Its first house was donated. Money is definitely a factor in the planned expansion.
The two men's houses near the hospital are old, one of them 100 years old and the other dating back 150 years. Both have required costly maintenance.
To cover the cost of new construction, Vineyard House wants to sell all three buildings, which are collectively valued by Oak Bluffs assessors at about $1.9 million. The organization is also third in line on a priority list at an Air Force Reserves unit in Alabama for a team that will do most of the bare bones building - framing, plumbing and electrical work - free of charge.
"That will save us something in excess of $775,000," said Brian J. Mackey, executive director of Vineyard House.
Island business have also offered to sell building materials at wholesale rates, Mr. Mackey said.
The financial goal is simple. "We won't have a mortgage going forward," he said.
Water issues at the new site may be costly because of the proximity to the Lake Tashmoo watershed. Mr. Mackey said planners at the MVC have helped the organization consider septic designs that incorporate nitrogen filtering technology.
If Vineyard House wins approvals from the MVC and then from the Tisbury planning board, groundbreaking could happen in the fall, starting with poured foundations before the next winter freeze and then waiting for the Air Force engineering crews to arrive next April. The planned completion date is 2007.