MGH, Partners give $3 million for Windemere upgrades
File photo by Nelson Sigelman
Martha's Vineyard Hospital's Windemere nursing home is about to receive a major facelift. Together, health care giants Partners Healthcare and Mass General Hospital (MGH) will contribute $3 million to their Island subsidiary, to fund a complete overhaul of the nursing home's deteriorating wooden facade and depleted rooms and furniture.
"It shows the strong commitment both of these prestigious medical organizations have to the Island's only nursing home," Tim Walsh, chief executive officer of Martha's Vineyard Hospital, told The Times in a telephone conversation Friday. "This will make a major difference, not just in the physical appearance of the building, but in the quality of life the residents of Windemere enjoy."
The wooden building that welcomed residents and a crowd of well-wishers in March 1994 has not held up well against the ravages of Island weather. Trim and window sills show obvious evidence of rot.
Mr. Walsh said MGH will contribute $2 million. Partners will kick in another $1 million. New windows have already been ordered.
"Now we can bring the facility up to a level where it will match the quality of the terrific care the staff provides," Mr. Walsh said.
About four years ago, an architect brought in to examine the building presented a series of recommendations that included replacing all the windows. Windemere applied to the state Department of Health for permission to proceed with $3.3 million in renovations.
"We've done some things on the inside," said Ken Chisholm, Windemere administrator. "We've renovated the cafeteria, conference room, and recreation room, painted the first floor and added carpeting. The expensive part is replacing all of the windows, siding, doors, decks, and railings on the porches."
Mr. Chisholm said work is expected to begin in April and be completed in about nine months. Columbia, contractors for the new hospital building, will oversee the project.
"It's pretty exciting," Mr. Chisholm said, "that for all of the good stuff that goes on inside, we will at least have something to match it on the outside."
Mr. Chisholm said it is very sad that the relatively new building is in such poor shape. He said the outside appears to be covered in cedar shingles but they are cedar shingle panels, which are quite thin. On occasions when the siding was power washed the building lost panels, he said.
"We've replaced the boilers, already, we've replaced the air conditioning," he said. "We're replacing the furniture. About half of it is done now."
Windemere has 74 beds and currently has 70 residents. The independent living unit is full, as are the Alzheimer's and dementia units. There are four empty beds in the skilled nursing unit, according to Mr. Chisholm.
Martha's Vineyard Hospital officials visited MGH last March to discuss Windemere's needs and its ranking as one of the state's top nursing homes, Mr. Chisholm said. "We showed them all of the things that we have done inside, and then we showed them the outside," he said. "And when you look at the outside, it is a very compelling case if you want to keep it going. It wasn't a hard sell, it just took them a while to move through their process."
The official news came in January. "We were ready to go," Mr. Chisholm said. "It will be a giant step forward."
The Windemere money is one of a series of investments Partners and MGH have made since March 1, 2007 when the Island's not-for-profit, privately owned hospital become one of a group of hospitals, health clinics, and physicians' organizations owned by Partners HealthCare System, a $6 billion nonprofit founded in 1994 by MGH and Brigham and Women's Hospital, both in Boston.
"We said at the very beginning that we were very committed to the health care needs of the people of Martha's Vineyard when we entered into this affiliation," Dr. Peter Slavin, MGH president, told The Times in a telephone conversation Monday.
Dr. Slavin said that in light of that commitment and after learning of the need, MGH decided it would assist. He said nursing homes are critically important in our society, particularly on the Island.
"Nursing homes can provide a level of care somewhere between what is available at home and what is available in the hospital, and in some cases can help keep people out of the hospital and help them avoid much more expensive care in a more comfortable setting," he said. "The demand for nursing home services is only going to increase in future years. It is unclear what ability our Medicare, Medicaid programs, which are the principal support of the nursing homes, are going to have to be able to cover the costs of those services. That is the biggest question."
He added, "You could argue that maybe the Vineyard doesn't have the population to support a nursing home like that, on the other hand what are the alternatives? You want people close to their families. It would not make any sense for people in need of nursing home services to have to go to the mainland. I don't think the community has any choice but to support this institution."
Despite its physical appearance, Windemere has continued to finish in the top ranks when matched against mainland facilities.
In 2012, the state Department of Public Health's (DPH) Division of Health Care Quality gave high marks to the nursing home in a performance survey that evaluated five categories of performance over the previous three years.
"The facility's score is 130 after adjustment for scope and severity," DPH said in a report summary. "Ninety percent of all facilities had a score of 130 or lower. The statewide average facility score is 123."
Operating a nursing home anywhere in the state, but especially on the Island, is daunting.
In 1994, its first year of operation, Windemere lost $1.8 million and in 1996 filed for court protection under Chapter 7 of the federal bankruptcy code. Windemere emerged from bankruptcy two years later but continued to struggle financially. After a period of huge losses, hospital officials managed to staunch the flow of red ink to an acceptable level, and in 2004 Windemere ended the year with its first-ever profit.
Geographical isolation that affects hiring and residency, along with Medicaid reimbursements that fail to cover the complete cost of caring for residents, are some of the biggest challenges Windemere faces, according to hospital officials.
For the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2012, Windemere ended $1,000 in the black.