To the Editor:
The article, [Plans for an older population presented today, October 24] is especially compelling to me due to an ongoing personal situation. I am a native who graduated from MVRHS and went off to college, had a successful and fulfilling career that would not have been possible on Martha’s Vineyard, retired and returned to the Island to live with my aging mother in July. However, this letter is not about me, but about my mother, Kathryn Baptiste Stewart.
Kathryn was born in her grandmother’s house in Vineyard Haven in 1925. Her maternal ancestors were among the earliest Vineyard settlers. With the exception of the first few years of her teaching career, Kathryn has lived most of her nearly 89 years on the Island. She married a summer person and they made their lives here, raising two daughters. Many of the longtime West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah residents in their 40s, 50s and 60s have memories of Kathryn as their music teacher. She wrote special songs for West
Tisbury and Chilmark that some still sing. Since childhood, Kathryn has been a member of the First Baptist Church in Vineyard Haven, where she was organist for three decades and where she was a member of the choir until this past summer. She is a respectable bridge player who has many friends in the Island bridge community. All in all, Kathryn is a beloved mother, grandmother, and devoted Islander who has invested in multiple ways in Island causes. The Red Stocking comes to mind as something in which she has invested greatly. Unfortunately, the Island community is not returning her investment to her.
On August 6, Kathryn fell and suffered a minor head injury. M.V. Hospital (to which she has contributed) was unable to provide the level of immediate care she needed, and she was flown to Massachusetts General Hospital. After several days at MGH, she was transported to a critical care rehab in Sandwich. She spent a short time at Cape Cod Hospital before being admitted to the Royal Nursing and Rehab facility in Falmouth at the end of August, where she continues to be in rehab nearly three months later.
Kathryn’s greatest wish is to return to the Vineyard, first to a care facility and eventually to her home. Since September, with the assistance of case workers in Falmouth, my sister and I have been trying to return our mother to her beloved Island, with requests to Windemere rehab and the hospital swing bed unit. Each time Kathryn asks me when she will be back on the Island, I have to tell her we have been notified that there is no bed for her.
As the article mentioned above notes, the older population on the Island is increasing, and I applaud the efforts to address the challenges that this presents. More people are retiring here, and younger adults are moving their aging parents to the Island to be under their care. These individuals are occupying the beds in the nursing homes and rehab facilities, putting lifelong residents like Kathryn in the position of spending their final years off-Island. While the care and rehab she is receiving in Falmouth is excellent, her recovery would be immeasurably better if she were able to have visits from friends and if family members could have easier access to her. All of her family and friends live on the Island. It seems beyond unfair that elderly people should suffer so much discomfort and illness as they age, and to force them to be removed from access to the people they love seems to me to be the ultimate injustice.
As we move forward on the Vineyard to deal with the increasing population of aging citizens, I urge our elected officials and policy makers to consider how lifelong residents will be served more compassionately. In the meantime, I will continue to advocate for my mother to be cared for in a facility on the Island, where she can continue to recover with the support of the community she has supported throughout her entire life.