Martha’s Vineyard Community Services will end its Visiting Nurse Service on June 30 after nearly 43 years of operation.
Seventy-two clients and 22 employees — 12 staff members and 10 per-diem workers — will be affected. The agency is not accepting new referrals, said Julia Burgess, executive director of Community Services.
Program director Sharon Clauss-Zanger noted the closing date is subject to assurance of adequate and appropriate transition arrangements for its home-care clients.
“If we have any clients that still need service and can’t be transferred [by June 30], we will continue to provide service but we don’t expect that to be the case,” Ms. Burgess said.
Employees have good options for continued employment, Ms. Burgess said.
“Health care generally is in such dire need,” she said. “We are hopeful that between the hospital and hospice, our employees have options and we will provide outplacement services.”
No other programs are affected at the 47-year-old agency, which provides an umbrella of social services for the Vineyard.
“This decision has been made as part of our long-range strategic planning process and was not related to financial difficulties within the agency,” Ms. Burgess said.
“We ultimately came to a point where before investing substantial additional resources in hiring, construction and technology upgrades, a decision needed to be made,” she said.
Looking forward, Ms. Burgess noted that “historically, [Community Services] has established new programs and closed programs in response to community needs.
“MVCS is, above all, a human service organization and the need for human development, mental and behavioral health services and support for people with disabilities has never been greater on Martha’s Vineyard,” she said.
“When we are assured that the health care needs of our existing clients are being fully met, between 80 and 100 remaining employees will renew focus on the growth of prevention, education, advocacy, treatment, and human development services to keep pace with the current and emerging needs of the Island community,” Ms. Burgess said.
“We will add depth to our existing services and I have personal interest in persons with disabilities and I want to look at funding and resources to provide behavioral health services to children and seniors,” Ms. Burgess said.
Behavioral health includes mental health and related problems such as addiction, “which is a real issue on this Island,” Ms. Burgess said.
The move ends an era of two competing visiting nurse services for the Island.
In 1984, after a disagreement between Community Services and the then-VNS Advisory Committee, a second home health care agency opened on the Island.
By the early 2000s, Community Services said in a statement, the health care climate had changed so that many of the nursing services were no longer fully reimbursed.
At the same time, community pressure grew to resolve duplication and other issues raised by the presence of two home health care services on an Island the size of Vineyard.
Board chairman Susan Wasserman led a failed effort to merge Community Services and the Vineyard Nursing Association.
“Trying to merge a single-focus organization into our multi-service organization proved too complicated to succeed,” she said.
“The MVCS board and management team eventually came to the realization that we needed to make the difficult decision to close our own Visiting Nurse Service,” Ms. Wasserman said.
“Over our long history, community members have welcomed us into Island homes. This historic bond has been a source of pride and strength for the agency, making this decision tremendously difficult,” Ms. Wasserman said.
“VNS has a wonderfully talented and committed staff. They are like family to us, making [this] business decision the hardest decision I’ve made in my tenure as board president,” she said.
Robert Tonti, chief executive officer of the Vineyard Nursing Association, was surprised at the news.
“I got a call from Julia [Burgess] this morning and we have a meeting for next week. We’re going to work with [Community Services] to make this change as seamless as possible. We’ll work to meet the needs,” Mr. Tonti said.
Noting that 72 Visiting Nursing Service clients is a significant number, he said, “We need to meet and understand the care segment and services. Fortunately, we have more than three months to work through transitioning.”
Echoing Ms. Burgess’ comments about the growing need for elder services on the Island, Mr. Tonti noted the nursing association recently launched Private Homecare Services in December, providing an array of services: homemaking, personal care, and driving clients to appointments on and off Island.
“We’ve expanded home health aides from nine to 23 staffers over three months to serve twenty to twenty-five clients,” he said.