Each day nearly 50 Vineyard Nursing Association nurses, therapists, and home health aides arrive at 15 Merchants Court in Vineyard Haven to collect a daily schedule of visits, patient notes or updates, and medical supplies. From here, the caretakers set out across the Island to meet the needs of our homebound neighbors – almost 250 people every day.
The Vineyard Nursing Association has been providing home health care and community health programming since 1984. Through daily home visits and community clinics, the VNA cares for more than 1,500 people each year with no regard to age, race, residency, or income. Services are made available to Island residents and visitors regardless of their ability to pay.
During 27 years in business, the VNA has learned much about providing care on the Vineyard. Our experience, combined with community support, helps guide us through the multitude of regulatory and economic hurdles that we face. Home health care has changed dramatically since Medicare began reimbursing such care in 1966. Early iterations of home health care focused only on poor and underprivileged persons. Today, quality home health care services are widely available and include level of care formerly only available in the hospital. Through such advances, the VNA is able to help people recover from surgery, illness, and manage chronic disease in the comfort of their home.
The services and programs offered by the VNA have changed to anticipate medical advances and accommodate increased demands of an aging baby boomer generation. Here is a snapshot of the programs we offer to meet the needs of our Island neighbors:
Skilled Nursing: We have registered and licensed nurses who help people manage their health care needs at home. Not only do we receive referrals from doctors and hospitals on the Island, Cape Cod, Boston and beyond, but also from family members, senior centers, and concerned neighbors. Upon admission, an individualized care plan is created for each patient. Every nurse has a specialized computer that keeps track of doctors’ orders, visit notes, and prescription needs. Most importantly, nurses are able to coordinate the orders and medications from a variety of physicians and hospitals, ensuring that no patient takes conflicting medications. Nurses are able to communicate directly with physicians to report progress or complications.
Rehabilitative Services: Our physical and occupational therapists help people regain independence by instructing patients how to do exercises that build strength, mobility and balance. Our therapists work as part of our multi-disciplinary team approach to care.
Personal Care: Our home health aides provide assistance with the basic needs of living at home, such as bathing, dressing, eating, shopping, laundry, meal preparation, and homemaking. These services are available for a short duration in conjunction with an acute illness, or for longer periods when age and mental or physical limitations require it.
Community Health and Education: Our community health nurse provides free weekly blood pressure screenings across the island and offers monthly private nurse clinics in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, West Tisbury, Tisbury, and Chilmark. The private nurse visits require scheduled appointments, but all are open to the public and free of charge. Our community health nurse also takes patient referrals from board of health agents, councils on aging, and physicians.
In partnership with the Island Health Clinic and Health Care Access, we are establishing a chronic disease management program that will give Vineyarders a comprehensive approach to addressing symptoms and complications arising from diabetes, congestive heart failure, cardio-vascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The program will begin as a pilot study providing participants with care ranging from wellness counseling to in-home nursing.
The health care industry, particularly those providers who are currently reliant on Medicare reimbursements, will need to reduce overhead and diversify business to ensure necessary services are not reduced. In preparation of this, we have made some strategic decisions that will secure a stable future for home health care on the Island. We initiated a capital campaign to purchase our headquarters in Vineyard Haven. By purchasing the building – even with a mortgage – we will reduce our overhead by more than $50,000 each year.
In May, the VNA will open an office on Nantucket in response to the closing of the visiting nurse service on our sister island. With our Nantucket office, we will become the only certified, full-service home health care agency on both islands. Initially, nurses and home health aides will travel from the Vineyard to Nantucket. Permanent Nantucket staff is being hired now to complete orientation and training on the Vineyard, in anticipation of the opening in May. Services on the Vineyard will not be disrupted as we extend our services. A startup grant was awarded to the VNA by Nantucket Cottage Hospital to help offset the pre-opening expenses and short-term transportation and office space needs.
The VNA’s growth and success can be contributed to a dedication to good, quality care and a supportive community. We rely on charitable contributions to meet our expenses each year, as Medicare and health insurance reimbursements do not entirely cover our costs, and we provide free care whenever needed. Generous contributions from individuals and community funders enable us to purchase state of the art equipment that helps us empower our patients to take control of their good health.
Amy Houghton is director of development and communications for the Vineyard Nursing Association.