Essay : Vineyard Nursing: A Prescription for a Healthy Senior Community
Like many people this time of year, I am in the midst of my year-end "review" of Vineyard Nursing Association – appraising our progress and gauging our preparedness for what 2012 might bring. Very simply, I can summarize Vineyard Nursing Association's 2011 in one word – growth : the number of patients we saw increased; our staff grew to 105 employees; we opened an office on Nantucket; and we secured a permanent home in Vineyard Haven for the organization. We can proudly say that our successes are a reflection of the community support we feel financially and in many other ways.
Planning for this year and beyond requires me to drill down more intently to ensure that we can meet the changing needs of all of our community members. Beyond our own patient demographic information, the recent 2010 census data points to the obvious aging baby boomers and longer life expectancy as the driving forces in home health care. Recent articles providing analysis of projected health care needs on the Vineyard and beyond all point to the unique health requirements of a growing, aging population. In fact, The Martha's Vineyard Times recently highlighted the work of six rural health scholars who came to the Island to assess the mental health needs of the Island's elderly population. Though the scholars were focusing on mental health, the headline says it all: "Rural Scholars Study: As Island Elderly Population Grows, So Will Health Needs."
The clinicians and home health aides at Vineyard Nursing are already seeing the growth in demand for services. In 2011, our caregivers made more than 35,000 home visits. Since 2007, we have seen the staff triple in size; the number of visits has increased by 35 percent, or approximately 11,000 visits per year. The number of patients has grown by 42 percent, or more than 300 patients. What is more striking is that more than 35 percent of our patients are 85 and older, confirming the identified trend of living longer.
And while our future challenge will always be to find the resources to keep up with our growing population, the good news is that Vineyard Nursing Association has the experience and the resources to meet our current demand.
Broadly speaking our clinicians and home health aides serve the elder community through four distinct programs: Acute Care Services, Elder Services, Community Health and Private Care Services.
Acute care. Our Acute Care Services provide a comprehensive team approach with skilled nursing, home health aides, rehabilitation therapists and social workers who are brought into the home to help patients recover after a surgical procedure or illness. In 2011, we provided acute care to more than 800 people.
Elder services. For more than 20 years Vineyard Nursing Association has been a contract provider for Elder Services of the Cape and Islands. Though Elder Services recently added another contract provider, we continue to care for nearly 100 individuals weekly, more than half of whom are 85 or older. Further, what makes our Elder Services care unique on Martha's Vineyard is that when any of our Elder Services clients need acute care – which happens from time to time – we are able to transition them into our Medicare acute program. As the only certified home care agency, we can make that transition between programs quickly and in a seamless fashion.
Community health. Each week our Community Health Nurse provides free blood pressure and other health screenings across the Island. Seniors can make appointments to meet with a nurse monthly for regular monitoring of health issues, vaccinations or medication information. In addition, our nurse conducts home visits to more than 40 people each quarter through this program, which is supported by the towns' Departments of Public Health.
Private care. Private Care Services are available year-round, for short- and long-term care. These services enable families to augment home health services or provide respite to family caregivers. These services can be as simple as grocery shopping or transportation to medical appointments to complex private duty nursing. We have provided Private Care Services since the end of 2008 and have seen the demand for these services increase steadily. In 2011, we provided Private Care Services to more than 200 families.
Breadth of services an asset
Clearly the Vineyard Nursing Association will be a tremendous asset for people aging in place on the Vineyard. The breadth of our services enables Vineyard Nursing to recognize the nuances of treating elderly patients. We have learned that our patients range from the relatively healthy with strong family support to the chronically ill with no social or financial supports. Fortunately, we have a team of professionals – nurses, therapists, social workers, home health aides and companions – who are able to treat the "whole" person and a wide assortment of their issues. After nearly 30 years of helping our neighbors, we believe we have a strong foundation of skills and experience that puts us in good stead for meeting the changing needs of our community.
With an eye to the future, you can expect that we will be expanding our offerings related to chronic disease management, broadening awareness of our medication management program and ensuring that the community knows to look to us as a primary resource for answering health care questions. We remain, as always, committed to providing the best homecare to our island community as we have been doing since 1984.
Bob Tonti is the chief executive officer of Vineyard Nursing Association.