An unfair turn

An unfair turn

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.

Carolee Stewart

Vineyard Haven


  1. Mrs. Stewart was my music teacher, along with Mrs. Bangs back in the day. Carolee’s letter has addressed an issue my own mother faced in 2008. She was developing dementia, and after several months of 24/7 care in her home in Menemsha, she landed in the MV hospital with a hip injury after a fall. My brother and I asked Windermere if she could be placed in the Alzheimer’s unit. There were no beds available but the director felt there was a good chance she could be admitted to Unit 3 until a bed became available. We had high expectations that our mother would be admitted, but were told after the weekend the the head honcho said “Absolutely not!”, do to her deepening dementia. We were told that she would have to be placed in a facility off island. My brother and I could not believe that islanders who had deep roots here and had contributed to island life over the course of 87 years did not have at least some consideration over washashores who bring their elderly parents with them and place them in facilities on the Vineyard. Why couldn’t a non native islander be sent off island in their place? They could wait until a bed was available. It was very upsetting realizing that lifelong Vineyarders very often end up passing away in unfamiliar settings where friends and family have to travel off island just to visit them. Our mom died in a facility in Buzzards Bay in 2011.
    When we expressed our concern with the director all she could say was “Yeah, it shouldn’t be this way.” Well, it shouldn’t be this way and now that elderly issues are becoming more and more center stage, this island community needs to find a way to end the involuntary “banishment” of our native islanders who in the sunset of their lives deserve to the right to die in the community they nurtured for so long, and among their family and friends.
    Many will say that this would be unfair. That it is a first come , first serve situation. I am not so sure that is the case all of the time. It is a unique problem here on Martha’s Vineyard because of the nature of the place. It would seem a good idea that in the planning of elderly affairs for the future that at least consideration be given to rectifying this unhappy situation.

    1. You are so right. It is heart wrenching to have an elderly loved one be sent off Island. I am in this situation now with a loved one having to be placed over in Falmouth. I am not young myself, and it makes visiting very difficult.
      It should not be happening.
      Another thing I find very disturbing, is that so many of the folks in the elderly housing facilities, are mothers or grandmothers of people who only just arrived. The elderly family members follow sons, daughters and grand kids here, and then get all the spaces, while our Island natives wait for years to get a space.
      It is all very wrong!

  2. It is very sad that some of our elderly have to be placed off island.
    There are some “washashores” in that group, too. We who live and work
    here pay taxes that support Windemere, regardless of where we were born.
    Unfortunately, Windemere cannot magically expand according to our
    needs. Not too long ago there was no Windemere, and before that
    no Long Term Care wing at the hospital. Our society doesn’t take care
    of the elderly at home as in the old days. It is a serious problem, I agree. but I applaud the people who run Windemere. They have a very challenging job.

    1. That is true and no one would argue that point. My issue does not concern the nursing care provided there. I know some of the nursing staff and they are dedicated professionals. However, the island’s historical identity is tied to its born and bred island families. People who created a signature way of life here. My mother’s situation was not handled well by Windemere administrative staff when they offered unrealistic hope, and the final decision by the head of the hospital came across as sternly matter of fact and devoid of compassion. Part of Windemere’s challenging job should not be who gets in and who doesn’t. The challenging part should be making sure a native islander gets a bed as soon as humanly possible…… period. I am sure some people are admitted over others for whatever reason….maybe deep pockets is one, or maybe not. As the boomer generation becomes the elderly population here, the planning considerations should include a solution to this problem as a priority issue and not relegated to some amorphous “we’ll get to that stack.”