The Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) and Martha’s Vineyard Community Services met this week to develop a transition plan for the care of 66 patients now served by the Community Services Visiting Nurse Service.

Officials of both groups said real progress has been made in developing a plan to provide service continuity followed by an unexpected announcement by Community Services last week that it would shutter its nursing service on June 30 to focus on other areas, including behavioral health services.

In separate interviews this week, both Julia Burgess, executive director of Community Services, and Robert Tonti, chief executive officer of VNA, seemed to be on the same page with regard to patient service and employee placement.

The two leaders, their respective program and service directors, Sandy Corr-Dolby (VNA) and Sharon Claus-Zanger (VNS) met Monday afternoon to discuss the scope of transition and to develop a collegial plan to shift clients and to help 22 affected VNS employees find work.

They agreed that over the next three months, 36 VNS elder home care patients will move in groups of 10 from VNS to VNA care, “hopefully transferring VNS employees with their matching (current) case load,“ Ms. Claus-Zanger said.

The organizations agreed to co-visit with patients prior to transition to ease the process, Ms. Corr-Dolby said.

VNS holds contracts with the state Office of Elder Affairs covering the patients. Mr. Tonti said this week he has met with the state agency about succeeding VNS. “A plan is in place and we are awaiting finalization,” he said.

The 30 other acute home care VNS patients will continue under VNS care through June 30, with six acute care patients estimated to need care after that date. VNS stopped accepting new patients after the March 12 announcement of the shutdown.

“That’s something we can handle with our current case load of 155,” Mr. Tonti said, noting we’ve already seen an uptick of new patients as a result of VNS’s not accepting new patients,” he said.

While the patient care plan was priority, both organizations are faced with other challenges posed by the VNS shutdown.

Noting that the unexpected announcement surprised every one in the community, Ms. Burgess noted the emotional aftermath “has been difficult for our employees and staff as well.”

“People are upset but they need to understand that we didn’t have the referrals (patient load) to make the service sustainable. VNA is more than three times larger than we are,” she said.

Ms. Claus-Zanger described the MVCS outplacement program developed to date:

“First, we still have clients and we don’t want our employees to leave right away.” To that end, she said:

• VNA has offered to give VNS employees first rights to apply for any opening.

• Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard are sharing their job openings with VNS employees.

• A severance package is being prepared for employees.

• A package providing four months of Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) health insurance will be offered.

• A bonus package is planned, including bonuses for per diem employees.

Community Services also is trying to develop other programs to replace the home nursing service it is dropping.

“Our overall financial position is fine but like most nonprofits, we have to continually raise money,” Ms. Burgess said. “We want to make substantial investments (in other programs) so we wanted to move away from a service where there is an available provider.”

In the next three months, VNA must find new office space, invest in new technology tools for staffers and begin consideration of buying a building for its needs. “Remember, between transferred case load and new referrals, we are going to increase our business by 50 per cent,” Mr. Tonti said.

“There’s a crying need for close to 3,000 more square feet of space. We assume we’ll pay commercial rates, and, should we be thinking longer term, of buying our own space.”

Ms. Corr-Dolby said that “roughly $75,000 will be needed to equip and train new staff with computers and related tools and to train them as well as upgrading the space to handle our digital and medical-related needs.”

On the bright side, Mr. Tonti said, “We know the business we are inheriting. Having moved two years ago, we know the costs. We have a line of credit and cash on hand as a short-term funding source. If the need arose tomorrow, we have cash on hand to meet it.”