Martha's Vineyard Community Services to close its VNS health care agency
Martha's Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) announced Wednesday that it will close the agency's Visiting Nurse Service (VNS) on June 30. The non-profit's board made the decision at a meeting Tuesday night.
The news was contained in a two-page press release that described the history of the VNS, the factors that led to the decision to close it down, and the board's commitment to a smooth transition for all of the agency's clients.
VNS is one of five agencies that exist under the social services umbrella of Martha's Vineyard Community Services. It operates with a staff of 22 full-time and per diem employees, including a program director, nurses, and homemakers and certified nursing assistants who provide a variety of home health-care services across the Island. VNS also contracts to provide health-care services to several Island towns.
Influencing the decision to close was the failure over the years to bridge a gap that dated to 1984, when a disagreement within Martha's Vineyard Community Services led to the creation of a competing nonprofit, the Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA). The similarity in the names and purposes was a frequent source of community confusion.
According to the press release, "There has been a costly duplication of service and not a small amount of confusion for the public. The board of Martha's Vineyard Community Services feels that patients would best be served by one home health-care service tending to the needs of the Island, without competition that has drained energy from both organizations over the years."
Efforts over the years by board chairman Susan Wasserman to explore a merger were unsuccessful, in part because of the complications associated with trying to merge a single focus agency into a multi-service organization, according to the release.
Unable to effect a merger and facing costly investments, the decision was made to close VNS.
The VNS budget for the current fiscal year (July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008) is $1,144,144. The total Martha's Vineyard Community Services budget is $5,537,496.
In prepared remarks, Martha's Vineyard Community Services executive director Julia Burgess said, "The decision has been made as part of our long-range strategic planning process and was not related to financial difficulties within the agency."
The decision was a surprise to Island health-care providers and the competing Vineyard Nursing Association.
Bob Tonti, VNA chief executive officer, said he had no idea the decision was coming and only learned of it yesterday morning. He is still assessing what it may mean in terms of his organization, and he said he planned to meet with representatives of MCVS in the coming weeks.
"It was a surprise, and we will be meeting with them next week to try and understand their caseload and where we can help out," Mr. Tonti said. "We obviously are going to do what we need to do to support the community. That's all I know right now. It's very fresh." He added that he hopes to have a plan in place in very short time, so there can be a smooth transition.
Tim Walsh, Martha's Vineyard Hospital chief executive officer, also heard the news Wednesday. He said the hospital has worked closely with VNS and has always appreciated the good work they do. Mr. Walsh said the hospital would assist both agencies during the transition, wherever it can.
The number of patients handled by VNS varies from month to month and throughout the year. In January, the client roll was approximately 50.
In a telephone conversation yesterday morning, Ms. Wasserman said that if VNS stops taking referrals, the patient list should be reduced to about six on June 30. She expects the transition to be smooth. "Our plan is to work out a very specific plan for each of the patients that we have, and we are very hopeful that that will involve the VNA," she said.
Ms. Wasserman said the board was very concerned about the staff and approved a very generous severance package for all of the employees, including per diem workers. "We felt it was very important to manage this part of it well for the people who have done such a good job for us," she said.