Island groups seek share of hospital pot of gold

Island social service and health care nonprofit organizations and government departments are lining up to claim a share of more than $1.1 million Martha’s Vineyard Hospital is required to distribute over five years, under state Department of Public Health (DPH) guidelines.

As part of its approval process, DPH requires that new health care facilities provide a pool of money, generally five percent of a project’s cost, for community health initiatives (CHIs).

What is generally a fairly straightforward process on the mainland proved to be more complex on the Island, where health care and community leaders tend to wear many hats, and it was anticipated they would be among the likely applicants.

As part of a multi-step process a planning group was formed and worked with guidance from consultants working for DPH from the Southeast Center for Healthy Communities to create a grant application process. This month, nonprofit and public entities were invited to submit grant proposals by a deadline of Sept. 24.

Published ads in both Island newspapers said qualifying proposals “must meet community health priorities as defined by DPH including: eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities and their social determinants; promoting wellness in the home, workplace, school and community; or preventing and managing chronic disease.”

A total of 36 grant applications were received prior to last Friday’s deadline, Dedie Wieler, hospital chief quality officer, told The Times Monday. Ms. Wieler, one of the leaders of the planning group, said in some cases one organization has applied for one of two grants.

One-year awards, or “mini-grants,” are available ranging from $5,000 to $10,000. Multi-year “priority grants” in the amount of $20,000 per year for up to five years are also available.

Grant applicants include private nonprofits such as the Vineyard Nursing Association, which submitted three applications, and government entities such as the Island’s boards of health, which wants to address tick-borne illnesses.

Dukes County submitted five grant applications, representing the sheriff’s department and the county manager’s office.

For example, county manager Russell Smith submitted a grant application to fund a mosquito trapping and testing program.

This summer southeastern Mass experienced a number of cases of triple E. According to Mr. Smith, the county last year abandoned a state-run testing program because T.J. Hegarty, director of the Integrated Pest Management department and a full-time county employee, did not have time to collect the specimens, in addition to his regular pest management duties (Aug. 11, “County will spot-check mosquitoes for triple E and West Nile virus“).

Ms. Wieler said the planning group is scheduled to meet this morning to discuss the next step in the grant process. That includes deciding who will sit on the five-member grant review committee, the group responsible for reading all the grant applications and making the final award determinations.

Finding people familiar with the health care landscape but unconnected to any grant applicants presents something of a challenge. Ms. Wieler said the planning committee expects to help fill out the committee with people who are familiar with grants and grant judging.

“All the names will be tossed around on Thursday and calls will be made,” she said.

Also Ms. Wieler will sit on the committee as the hospital’s representative; she said it is important to note that this is not the hospital’s money to give. She said it is the committee that will make the decisions.

Ron O’Connor, DPH healthy communities regional director, will moderate the committee but would not have a vote.

Ms. Wieler said on Dec. 6 the grant recipients will be announced.

Although the pool of money stands at $1,133,400, the initial amount was calculated at $2 million, based solely on the cost of the hospital construction project.

Under earlier DPH guidelines, the hospital received approval to spend $925,000 to add new primary care physicians based on the community and the hospital’s need for primary care physicians.

Last year, the hospital sought DPH approval to add a new MRI to the hospital project, which put another $65,000 into the pot. The money the hospital previously allocated for specific projects was rolled into the new money and fell under revised guidelines meant to promote community health initiatives.

According to DPH, “The Community Health Initiative program is intended to foster collaborations between applicant institutions and community-based partners to improve the health status of vulnerable populations and to build community capacity to promote social determinants of good health.”