To the Editor:
The 2017 Annual Report of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital is entitled “Caring for Our Community,” which is a great title, and many of the staff we encounter when we go to the hospital live and breathe this attitude. That is why we love them, and love our hospital. They are clearly a part of our community in more ways than just providing good health care. We’re in this together, “this” being the Island we love and are rooted in. For them and for us, healthcare is not a commodity, and our hospital is not a corporation.
The primary purpose of a corporation is provide a return on investment for shareholders. That is how the private sector functions, and it is perfectly legitimate and generally benefits everybody, when we’re talking about producing high-end handbags. But healthcare is not a consumer product.
The hospital’s real investors include, first and foremost, its staff members, who invest their time, energy, education, and passion in their jobs. Further “investments” come in many forms from many sources: hospital volunteers, EMTs, artwork, and checks both large and small in the donation envelopes. But these donations to the hospital are not made in hopes of financial returns. The return we seek is a healthy, vibrant healthcare service organization, integrated closely and oriented fully to the Island as a whole.
This return is not to be confused with “community benefits” in the form of the grants mandated for its nonprofit status by the Affordable Care Act. Don’t get me wrong, these are highly valued and appropriate contributions to important healthcare activities on the Island. But when Islanders express dismay, sign petitions, or write letters to the editor about the direction they fear the hospital is going in, they are not talking about the importance of obtaining more hospital grants. “Community benefits” is not the same as community engagement.
Examples of successful community engagement include the recent agreement reached by Joe Woodin and Julie Fay of MVCS with off-Island facilities to provide detox beds to Island residents, or, going further back, the hospital’s work with Island public safety, public health, and the school superintendent’s office to use the annual flu clinic to develop a model of large-scale, rapid immunization to all Islanders in the case of a significant large-scale disease outbreak or other emergency.
However, these examples of effective collaboration are few and far between. For every example of positive collaboration, there are examples of hitting a frustrating blank wall when approaching the hospital. And the mentality of community integration does not appear shared by some members of the board and some parts of the hospital administration. The board of trustees need only follow the attitude of the hospital staff: Truly “caring for our community” implies engagement with the community on the vital issues we all face, from housing to care for the aging to addressing tick-borne illnesses to addiction and alcoholism. We want a hospital that functions as a part of our community, openly communicating with and accountable to the community it serves.