Martha’s Vineyard Hospital honors the man behind the scenes

Mr. Bulman holds up a framed copy from the front page of The Martha's Vineyard Times of October 16, 2008. — Photo by Heidi Wild

The story of the new, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital has been written. How it was built without a mortgage, thanks to more than $50 million in donations, How it is filled with the latest technology and linked electronically to Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the premier medical institutions in the world.

But there is another story, behind the stout brick façade and the landscaping, one known to a small group of hospital officials and employees and the team of builders who labored on the project.

The story is about how Connie Bulman, who started out as a part-time housekeeper at the Carney Hospital in Dorchester a dollar an hour and rose to become chief operating officer of the 400-bed teaching hospital, responsible for millions of dollars in construction projects on the hospital campus, answered the call of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital chief executive Tim Walsh, his former colleague and friend, and agreed to supervise the construction of the Island’s new hospital.

Mr. Bulman was 68, near retirement. Mr. Walsh convinced him to accelerate the schedule. “It is lucky for me and lucky for the community that he came,” Mr. Walsh said as he waited with about 30 other hospital employees and officials to surprise Mr. Bulman, 72, with a small retirement ceremony on June 30, in the foyer of the new hospital.

Many of the speakers at the ceremony highlighted Mr. Bulman’s role as a mentor and a problem solver. Behind the scenes Mr. Bulman, clerk of the works and director of facilities management, kept the contractors moving, broke the logjams, and came up with solutions.

“Without him, we would not have the hospital we have today,” Tim Sweet, hospital board chairman, said.

“His perseverance and knowledge are unbelievable,” Mr. Wash said. “And when something does not seem to be working right, he is innovative.”

“It was special,” Mr. Bulman said of the small ceremony, in a telephone conversation with The Times. “It was from their heart. They are just good people.”

Mr. Bulman said one aspect of working on the Island is that work relationships reflect the closeness of the community. “You get much closer to people down here,” he said. “The resources are so limited that you do not have to look far to be able to give someone a helping hand.”

And Mr. Bulman has always made it his practice to give someone that hand. On June 30, many of the people gathered in the hospital foyer knew that from experience.

“It has always been my style,” he said, “even if I was walking around, I’d push a stretcher, I didn’t care what my job was, so it’s always seemed natural, and I think people just appreciated it.”

Mr. Bulman said the Boston medical world is quite different. “They have a deep bench,” he said, drawing on a sports metaphor. “But down here, every corner you turn, you get an opportunity to do something with somebody.”

Among the gifts presented to Mr. Bulman on June 30 were a distinctive red jacket of a hospital volunteer and a facsimile of the front page of The Times with a photo showing the top steel beam for the new hospital frame being raised.

Mr. Bulman said he looks forward to wearing his red jacket.