New home, same mission for Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard

Hospice of Martha's Vineyard will have a new director in August. — File photo by Lynn Christoffers

Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard has moved its home from a small, poorly appointed trailer to a spacious new office suite with a water view, a happy example of patience and good deeds being rewarded.

The short trip along Beach Road in Vineyard Haven from the hospital grounds to the Tisbury Market Place represents a major shift in working-lifestyle. With the new complex’s wide front verandah, welcoming entryway, library, and ample space for both group meetings and intimate consultation and counseling, the change of scene and atmosphere is dramatic.

But despite the external transformation, the agency’s mission remains constant as it has since its inception in 1981: “To meet the unique physical, emotional and spiritual needs of all who are facing advanced illness and loss, and to give them hope, comfort and compassion. From the beginning, through the journey.” And, as from the start, all services are free.

According to Terre Young, Hospice’s executive director since 2005, the new quarters provide a strikingly more harmonious environment for staff and clients, and allow for expansion in one area of programming. Although settled in for three months, Ms. Young is still thrilled and amazed with the new situation.

“We have our own space, we’ve landed,” she said, describing with delight the pleasure for both staff and clients of being in a “peaceful, serene, place.”

Thanks to the new space, all meetings can be held on site; work can be done more efficiently and enjoyably.

The change enables the agency to expand and enhance bereavement services. The conference room comfortably accommodates support groups; an office provides privacy. Ms. Young stressed that these free bereavement services are available to all, not only those whose loved one was a Hospice patient.

“We support anyone with grief or bereavement issues,” she said.

Hospice will welcome community members to view the shiny new office at an Open House next Tuesday, Jan. 29, 10 am to 4 pm. Staff, volunteers, and board members will be on hand to greet guests, answer questions, and talk about the services offered.

Though the search began little more than a year ago, the process began in 2001 when Hospice received a $1.2 million bequest from the late Katherine Graham for its endowment fund, $500,000 of it earmarked for a new home. At the time the agency occupied a trailer on the hospital campus. It may have looked cozy at first, but working conditions were trying.

Ms. Young said the unit was cramped, offering no privacy for phone calls and meetings, no plumbing. It was far from a comforting atmosphere for clients dealing with emotionally difficult situations. Because space was tight, meetings were held off site in church halls, libraries, or private homes. Bereavement counselors went to clients’ homes or saw them in their own offices. The well-worn trailer had been home since 1990, and with all its inadequacies a change was sorely needed.

Hospice staff and board meanwhile were waiting to see if space would become available in the newly refurbished hospital building. When they learned in November 2011 that the hospital could not provide office accommodations, the search was on.

When Ms.Young saw the newly built office condo she knew it was a perfect fit. The interior was unfinished, ready to be configured to Hospice’s specifications. Last August 10, board president Karen Achille signed the closing documents, purchasing the condo from owner Sam Dunn. Hospice had its long-awaited home.

“Everyone was generous,” Ms. Young said, explaining that from the owner to the builders, electricians, the anonymous community member who donated the furniture and Trip Barnes who moved it to the Island free of charge, many people pitched in to make the new headquarters possible. Ms. Graham’s bequest was key. A $10,000 gift by the late Donald Davis of Chilmark for a library, part of a $50,000 bequest, could now fulfill its desired purpose.

Ms. Young called these examples of the many ways in which the Vineyard supports Hospice and makes its work possible. From Its founding, the agency has steadfastly insisted on keeping its services entirely free. Unlike many off-Island hospice groups, it requires neither insurance nor private payments.

The $396,000 annual operating budget is funded by a combination of donations both large and small, along with an allotment from the endowment. Providing a major chunk are at least nine community benefits from lavish to low-key, formal to casual, some sponsored by Hospice, others organized by outside groups and individuals.

“It’s these gifts that allow us to provide the quality care that our nurses and bereavement counselors bring to the families of our community,” Ms. Young said.

“Every time we provide assistance, we are honoring the generosity of our benefactors and supporters,” the Mission Statement reads eloquently. “We are dependent on fundraising efforts and donations to support the work of Hospice.”

Expenses are kept low, paid staff small. There are four nurses and three bereavement counselors, all working per diem. Office staff includes Ms. Young, a 24-hour/week administrative assistant and a part-time bookkeeper.

Much of the patient care is provided by a crew of approximately 30 dedicated volunteers who may offer anything from reading, chatting, playing Scrabble, or taking a drive, to sitting quiet vigil at a bedside during the individual’s last days. Some 15 volunteers work to raise funds and countless others help at benefits and in various ways.

“It’s the community!” Ms. Young emphasized again. “People come to volunteer and say ‘I want to be part of Hospice and the difference Hospice makes in the community.'”

For more information about Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard or the Open House, call 508-693-0189.