Authors Posts by Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow

No bigger than a bottle cap, “the clinger” inflicts a knee-buckling sting that can require emergency treatment.

"The clinger" is about the size of a quarter and lives in eel grass in quiet, protected areas of saltwater ponds. – Photo by Dan Blackwood/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

On June 25, 17-year-old Florida resident Michelle Langone was rushed to Falmouth Hospital with respiratory failure and partial paralysis after being stung by a jellyfish known as “the clinger” while swimming off a dock in Waquoit Bay in Falmouth. “All of a sudden I felt my lower back tense up, and I couldn’t stand up straight, and like as if all my muscles were paralyzed,” she said in a June 26 interview with Boston television station WCVB. “I was cramping. It spread to my chest, and I couldn’t breathe.” Twenty-four hours after the sting, Ms. Langone said, she was still in pain, and had “tingling sensations” in her body. Ms. Langone’s mother described a scene out of a Stephen King novel, where her family was surrounded by a swarm of thousands of the stinging creatures.

"The clinger" has been documented in Farm Pond and Stonewall Pond.
“The clinger” has been documented in Farm Pond and Stonewall Pond.

According to Mary Carman, research specialist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), the clinger, Gonionemus vertens, is also alive and well on Martha’s Vineyard. “We’ve had sting reports from Farm Pond and in Stonewall Pond,” she told The Times. Ms. Carman knows firsthand about the pain of a clinger sting — she was stung on the lip while doing research at Farm Pond. “It felt like five hypodermic needles going into my lip at the same time,” she said. “It’s not fun.”
Oak Bluffs Shellfish Constable David Grunden has also been stung several times at Farm Pond. “It’s a very intense burning sensation,” he told The Times. “It went away in several minutes. But it has caused some people to go into anaphylactic shock. Clingers can stick to your skin, so chances are one sting will actually be multiple stings.” Mr. Grunden said he found the first clinger in Farm Pond in 2006. He said the treatment for a clinger sting is the same as for a garden-variety jellyfish sting — douse the wound with white vinegar. Both Mr. Grunden and Ms. Carman were stung in previous years, and so far this summer, no clingers have been sighted in Stonewall or Farm Pond. “We’re not sure why that is, but mostly likely it’s a little early in the summer for them on the Vineyard,” Mr. Grunden said.

Invasive invertebrate
The clinger is an invasive species from the northern Pacific that was first documented in Woods Hole in 1894 by biologists. “They went away in the 1930s when there was an eelgrass blight, but in the past 15 to 20 years, we’ve been seeing them come back, and we’ve been getting reports of some pretty nasty stings,” Annette Frese Govindarajan, research specialist at WHOI, told The Times.

There is conjecture in the scientific community that its firebrand sting has actually evolved since its East Coast arrival. There is certainty, however, that more people are being stung.

“It’s alarming that there are an increasing number of reports,” Ms. Govindarajan said. “The population is spreading. We’re finding them where we haven’t seen them in the past. The symptoms reported by the girl who was stung in Waquoit Bay are similar to other reports we’re getting, with the breathing difficulty and temporary paralysis.”

Part of what makes the presence of clingers so vexing is that they are so small, between the size of a dime and a quarter, and they’re extremely well camouflaged, almost completely translucent except for a thin brown, orange, or purple border and and two thin lines that cross in the center.

Clingers get their sobriquet because spend most of their life clinging to eelgrass. “The stings occur when people disturb eel grass,” Ms. Govindarajan said. “They don’t swarm. They live in more quiet, protected areas in saltwater ponds where there’s a lot of eelgrass.”

Ms. Govindarajan said clingers pose no threat to beachgoers. “They don’t live in the open ocean,” she said. “They can’t handle water where people want to swim.”

Mysterious creature

Scientists know that the clingers live one summer as an adult before they die off in early autumn. Before they reach adulthood, they go through the microscopic larvae and polyp stages. It’s not known how long the polyp stage can last, but it is known that the polyp can form an outer shell so it can survive the New England winter. It’s likely that the clinger survived the eelgrass blight in the 1930s by hunkering down in the polyp stage. “The polyp stage is interesting, because one polyp can make several jellyfish; it’s an asexual stage in their life cycle,” Ms. Govindarajan said. “The adults reproduce sexually, and they produce larvae, which form polyps, and the polyps in the asexual stage make the jellies,” she said. “When jellyfish occur in blooms, it’s because a polyp can make a lot of jellies, and a lot of polyps can make an awful lot of jellies.” Although the jellyfish was first discovered in Woods Hole over a century ago, scientists have yet to determine what preys on clingers, and why an animal that feeds on small zooplankton has a sting so toxic it can temporarily paralyze humans.

“There’s a lot we don’t know,” Ms. Govindarajan said. “Right now we’re trying to understand why they’re coming back every year.”


Final public hearing with urban-planning consultants ends on an upbeat note.

Possible improvements to the North Bluff area include creating a small park, adding shade trees, and installing wayfaring signage and an information booth. – Photo courtesy of Horsley Witten Group

It’s a rare occurrence when a public hearing in Oak Bluffs, or in any town on the Island, ends with a robust round of applause from a packed house. But that’s exactly what happened at the conclusion of the most recent Oak Bluffs downtown revitalization confab organized by the Oak Bluffs downtown streetscape committee (OBDSC).

Consultants suggested numerous improvements to the North Bluff area of Oak Bluffs, which they described as a "gateway to the town." – Photo  by Michael Cummo
Consultants suggested numerous improvements to the North Bluff area of Oak Bluffs, which they described as a “gateway to the town.” – Photo by Michael Cummo

The 90-minute meeting marked the conclusion of Phase 1 of the downtown revitalization effort. It was the culmination of a year of community outreach and weekly meetings by the OBDSC, public visioning sessions, and two previous public hearings with Horsley Witten Group consultants, both of which drew overflow crowds at the Oak Bluffs library meeting room.

Jon Ford, engineer and project leader with Horsley Witten Group, opened the proceedings with praise for the OBDSC and for the Oak Bluffs community at large.

“I’ve never seen such a high degree of involvement in a town of this size,” he said. “My hat’s off to the downtown streetscape committee. They’ve done a wonderful job of outreach to the town, in person and on social media. Over 1,700 Facebook followers is very impressive.” Mr. Ford also noted there were already visible improvements in the downtown area, in particular the public bathrooms and the Strand theater. “We want to build on this momentum,” he said.

The information gleaned during the yearlong planning and outreach effort led consultants to recommend focusing on three areas — the North Bluff area in the harbor and Circuit Avenue Extension; Circuit and Kennebec Avenues; and wayfaring, e.g. signage that helps pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers find their way around town.


North Bluff park

The North Bluff is already slated for substantial improvement with a $5.6 million construction project, due to be completed by end of June 2016, that will buttress the crumbling seawall and create a boardwalk that will connect the harbor to the Steamship Authority ferry terminal. Mr. Ford showed site plans and sketches of the North Bluff area that would dramatically transform the asphalt acreage with its shadeless, spartan waiting areas, and bring order to traffic flow described as “barely controlled chaos.” New site plans showed added pocket parks and trees that shade clearly delineated waiting areas. “This way, people’s first impression of the town will be a park, not a line of buses,” he said. An oft-repeated word in the Horsley Witten Group presentation was “flexibility.” “Flexibility is a key component in all of our recommendations,” Mr. Ford said. “You can delineate waiting areas and pedestrian crosswalks with paint. Planters can define vehicular and pedestrian boundaries, and they can be adjusted easily. The term ‘master plan’ is misleading. This plan is the current vision that’s going to be a living document over time.”

The list of possible improvements for Circuit Avenue Extension, one of two roads that lead to town from the North Bluff area, started with a very simple idea: Change the name. “We found a lot of support for changing the name to Harbor Way,” Mr. Ford said. “Circuit Avenue Extension is very unpoetic.” Site plans showed how painted pedestrian lanes and planters, as opposed to more costly traditional sidewalks, could create a clear path from the Island Queen to the Island theater.

As things stand, a new and improved “Harbor Way” would still lead ferry passengers to the unwelcoming eyesore of the Island theater. Mr. Ford said a mural or a painted scrim could cover the unsightly exterior wall, and could be changed from time to time. “We did this with a parking structure at Mass. General, and it was very effective,” he said. “You have a very strong arts community here. You can embrace that in many ways.” Art installations at town entrances, uniquely sculptural bicycle racks, festively painted pedestrian crossings, and aesthetically pleasing temporary signage are also ways the artistic mien of the town could effect positive change at minimal cost.


Change a challenge on Circuit Avenue

“We’ve never worked with an old New England town that didn’t have parking issues,” Mr. Ford said. Outreach data showed the lack of parking and the narrow, grungy sidewalks are the biggest concerns about the town’s de facto main street. While the North Bluff area is essentially a blank slate, the potential for change on Circuit and Kennebec Avenues is much more limited. “We looked at widening the sidewalks by changing to parallel parking, and we heard loud and clear what you thought about that,” Mr. Ford said, eliciting a ripple of laughter from the room. Without a change in parking orientation, the potential for widening the sidewalks on Circuit Avenue is extremely limited. However, removing the current sidewalk and replacing it with painted “pedestrian lanes,” similar to those on “Harbor Way,” could create more room to roam. Painted pedestrian lanes could also create a continuous walkway on fragmented Kennebec Avenue. Tweaks to Healy Square, “the heart of the downtown,” included moving trees from the center to the edges so they “frame” the view rather than blocking it, and expanding the square with a “bump-out” into Circuit Avenue. The area would be designated by planters and paint, and would create more outdoor seating. New loading zones would be created on each side of the bump-out, according to the plan. While the suggested changes for Circuit Avenue would consume seven valuable parking spaces, changes on upper Kennebec Avenue could create four new spaces and a change from parallel parking to diagonal parking at the harbor could add at least 15 spaces, overall netting the downtown 12 new parking spaces. Another inexpensive, immediately actionable way to create more parking downtown is a coordinated program by merchants to discourage employees from taking up Circuit Avenue spaces.


Looking for a sign

There was a strong consensus among townspeople and consultants that the signage, also known as wayfaring, is a glaring deficiency in downtown Oak Bluffs. “It starts when people get off the boat,” Mr. Ford said. “Right now, when someone gets off the Island Queen, they have no idea where the downtown is, or where the Campground is.” The primary goal of a new wayfaring program would be to create clear linkages, for cars and pedestrians, between the North Bluff, Circuit and Kennebec Avenues, Ocean Park, and the Camp Meeting Association. Mr. Ford said that signage could be done on a temporary basis and tweaked over time before permanent signs, “historical in nature” are installed. Temporary signage was cited as another opportunity to embrace the local arts community.


On to Phase 2

“In my opinion, the next step is for the planning board to discuss the information that came out of this,” planning board chairman and OBDSC member Brian Packish told The Times. “We’re going to source some funding for a design phase; Alice Boyd will look for grants, and we’ll get the selectmen, the Parks Department, and anyone who cares about this effort involved. I’m very optimistic moving forward. Without the immense support of the community, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Ms. Boyd told The Times that $110,000 of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding has already been allocated for engineering plans. State and federal funds require a plan to be “shovel ready,” meaning the engineering has been done and the project can go out to bid.

“They did a tremendous job in the first phase; now the community and the selectmen have to decide what they want to tackle first,” Ms. Boyd said.

Fred Hancock, chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), one of several MVC commissioners in attendance, said he was impressed with the efforts of the OBDSC. “Their level of community outreach was outstanding. It clearly made a big difference,” he told The Times. “By taking on a big plan in phases, change can happen more quickly. As people see things improve, the effort will gain more momentum.” Mr. Hancock said that the MVC will not play a regulatory role in the downtown revitalization, but will act in a consulting capacity when requested.


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The rainbow-emblazoned MVPBS van and white dog are often present at Island events.

Daniel J. Adams of Vineyard Haven drives a colorful rainbow-striped van emblazoned with “Martha’s Vineyard Public Broadcasting Station” (MVPBS) on the side, and an image of “the White Dog,” his company logo. Some days, Mr. Adams, MVPBS president, can be seen walking along the sidewalks of Vineyard Haven, his dog and mascot by his side.

On his company website, Mr. Adams purports it is “The World’s #1 source for Island news in the arts, culture, entertainment, and education.”

Although MVPBS claims to be a nonprofit organization, accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB), with an FM radio station “coming soon,” The Times was unable to verify any of those claims.

Several people familiar with Mr. Adams through their business dealings described a pattern of inconsistencies, misrepresentations, and advertising purchased but not delivered.


Dubious claims

Even to a casual observer, the immediate assumption is that Mr. Adams is somehow connected to the well-known Public Broadcasting System, or one of two nonprofit radio stations that broadcast to the Island.

In frequently asked questions section of his website, Mr. Adams answers the question, Is MVPBS a PBS affiliate?

“No. MVPBS incorporated is independently owned and operated of Dukes County, Massachusetts, only. MVPBS Inc. is NOT affiliated in any way with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Public Radio, the American Broadcasting Company, MVP Business Systems of California, or any of their respective network affiliates. MVPBS Inc. is an independent nonprofit corporation of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

MVPBS Inc. registered as a nonprofit with the Massachusetts Secretary of State in March 2014, according to filed documents. Although MVPBS states it is a nonprofit, a spokesperson at the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office said that MVPBS Inc. is not listed as a 501(c)(3) corporation.

Neither MVPBS Inc. nor Martha’s Vineyard Public Broadcasting Station could be found on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website that lists nonprofits, or on Guidestar, a website with a database of 2.2 million IRS-recognized nonprofits.

The cornerstone of the MVPBS is an FM radio station. A current post on the MVPBS webpage, which trumpets the organization’s five-year anniversary, promises that FM radio is “coming soon.”

In fact, Mr. Adams’ application has been rejected twice.

In a three-page letter dated Sept. 29, 2014, Peter H. Doyle, chief of the audio division at the Federal Communications Commission, rejected, for a second time, the MVPBS application for a Low Power FM radio station (LPFM).

“Although the [application] states that MVPBS has operated as a ‘not-for-profit, educational resource entity’ since January of 2010, it does not state that MVPBS had any legal recognition under the laws of Massachusetts or clarify what type of entity MVPBS may have been prior to its March 2014 incorporation as MVPBS, Inc.,” Mr. Doyle wrote.

Mr. Adams has also made liberal use of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) logo on the MVPBS website and other social media.

“They are not a BBB Accredited Business, and are illegally using our trademark/Seal,” Paula Fleming, vice president of communications and marketing at the BBB, said in an email to The Times dated June 23. “We will be sending a trademark infringement to the business today.”


Falsified name

Matt Stamas, musician and administrative assistant in the Oak Bluffs tax collector’s office, said Mr. Adams used his name on an application to the FCC without his permission, and that he subsequently ended up in a legal battle with Mr. Adams.

“He wanted me to be the music director for [MVPBS], and he said, ‘I’m getting this thing up and running, and we’re all going to get paid,’ but I never received any paperwork to fill out,” Mr. Stamas told The Times. “It was totally bogus. He used my name to file an FCC application, saying I was his music director, which isn’t true. I wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for the scam alert page.”

Mr. Stamas was referring to a Facebook page, “Scam Alert: MVPBS,” that has attracted a steady stream of comments from MVPBS detractors.

“I wrote to Dan and said, ‘You’re not authorized to use my name on anything,’” Mr. Stamas said. “Then he wrote the attorney  general and said that I had sexually harassed somebody in his organization. So I hired a lawyer, spent $300 to send him a letter in February that if he continues with these statements about me, he will face a lawsuit for libel. The letter was sent to the post office box on the [MVPBS] website, and it came back as undeliverable. I don’t know yet if it has been received.”

Mr. Stamas said Mr. Adams has a history of confrontational behavior.

“He’s been threatening people with lawsuits for libel and things of that nature, saying he’s going to take people to court, but there’s been no action at all,” Mr. Stamas said. “There are people who donated but are reluctant to come forward; I guess they’re concerned what he’ll do, or they’re just embarrassed.”

Several people who spoke to The Times critically about Mr. Adams would not speak on the record for fear of retribution, they said. Tim Hanjian, owner of Eco Island Pest Control in Oak Bluffs, had no such reservations.

“Summer of 2013, he told me he was broadcasting the Sharks games on MVTV, and he was offering ad spots,” Mr. Hanjian said. “I agreed to $600 for the season. Later I find out he’s got nothing to do with MVTV, and that he didn’t broadcast any games.”

Rather than spend money on legal fees to retrieve his $600, Mr. Hanjian said he’s considering a class action suit, given the number of people who claim to have been deceived by Mr. Adams. “At least we have to shut him down so he can’t take any more people’s money,” Mr. Hanjian said. “He’s still operating.”

Martha’s Vineyard Television (MVTV) is a nonprofit community-based public access television station.  MVTV President Stephen Warriner told The Times, “He is a member here, which anyone can be for the membership fee. But we don’t allow advertising. To the best of my knowledge, he didn’t broadcast any Sharks games.”


Support for MVPBS

Mr. Adams did not return calls or emails from The Times. However, an administrator with the company, who spoke off the record and asked not to be identified, called to say that MVPBS is in fact a BBB member and that the company belongs to “a number of business organizations, including the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce.” She also said that the “Scam Alert: MVPBS” Facebook page is the result of one business owner seeking revenge against Mr. Adams. “She’s someone with an axe to grind. I’ve even offered to meet her,” the administrator said.

Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Nancy Gardella confirmed that Mr. Adams is a member in good standing with the organization. “Dan joined the chamber last year,” she said. “He went through a rigorous process to be vetted,” she told The Times. “When the allegations were brought to our attention last summer, we checked with the BBB, and there were no issues. He attends events and activities, and he’s been totally fine. I think the person that set up the Facebook page is expressing her severe disappointment.”

The originator of the “Scam Alert: MVPBS” Facebook page, reached via Facebook message, would not identify himself or herself, or speak on the record with The Times.

Correction  July 2, 11:21 am – in an earlier version of this article Stephen Warriner was incorrectly quoted that MVTV does not have sponsored content. MVTV does allow for sponsorships that would be similar in style to PBS, but does not allow advertising.  Mr. Adams has submitted content to MVTV but did not broadcast Sharks games.

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Oak Bluffs selectmen tended to a laundry list of items at their regular meeting on Tuesday night, the last day of fiscal year 2015.

Dukes County Manager Martina Thornton brought two memoranda of understanding (MOU) to the selectmen to sign. One MOU formalized the town’s financial commitment to the newly purchased Council on Aging building. A vote at town meeting approved the purchase of the former Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) building in Tisbury off State Road for $1.4 million, to provide a permanent home for the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living (MVCL). The Oak Bluffs portion of the debt will be $335,680, plus interest, over 15 years. This amount does not include upgrades to the building. The MOU also stated that the county could rent space in the building to individual towns or to the county, at below market rate, or gratis. The MOU was endorsed unanimously by selectmen.

A second MOU defined a new Senior Services Oversight Board (SSOB). The regional board will be comprised of the county manager, one person from each town, and the Council on Aging director from each Island town. Financial expenditures, staffing decisions, expansion of services, and program offerings at the new Center for Living, which will be named the Martha’s Vineyard Senior Center, will be under the purview of the SSOB. Town COA directors will not be voting members. Although Ms. Thornton said the MOU had been signed by every other town board of selectmen and reviewed by town counsel and lawyers for the county, Oak Bluffs selectmen chose to delay a decision until their next regular meeting, on July 14, so Gail Barmakian, a selectman and lawyer, could “tighten up” the language of the MOU.

In other business, Carlos Pena, vice president of CLE Engineering, showed selectmen plans for the upcoming North Bluff seawall fortification and boardwalk. “It took seven years of intense planning and fundraising, but we finally have a good plan and the money to do it,” Mr. Pena said. The $5.6 million in total funding for the project is comprised of a $3.6 million grant from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) dam and seawall fund, and $2 million from the state Seaport Advisory Council. Steel sheeting will encapsulate the current crumbling seawall. The 12-foot-wide boardwalk will run from the harbor to the fishing pier. It will have benches and low-level lighting, and will provide beach access. Mr. Pena said the project will go out to bid on August 1, the contract will be awarded in mid-October, and it should be completed by June 30, 2016. Mr. Pena added that the ultimate goal is to extend the boardwalk to the SSA terminal, and then to Inkwell Beach.

Selectmen also unanimously voted to extend imbibing hours in Oak Bluffs bars and restaurants to 1:30 am on July 3, 4, and 5.


Island vaccination rates are so low that herd immunity is jeopardized, physicians said.

The Martha's Vineyard Hospital is offering measles vaccination clinics. – File photo by Michael Cummo

Ever since an unvaccinated child from off-Island was diagnosed with measles at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital last week, state and local health officials have been working double time to contain a possible outbreak.

State officials were well aware of the Vineyard’s traditionally low vaccination rate once the diagnosis was confirmed Friday.

“Martha’s Vineyard has been one of those areas where there has been a lot of [vaccination] exemptions for religious reasons,” Dr. Larry Madoff, director of the Division of Epidemiology and Immunization at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), told The Times on Monday. “We knew that exposures can happen here very rapidly.”

Whether the highly contagious virus will spread on the Vineyard has yet to be seen, and that outcome will remain uncertain for at least another week.

However, according to Dr. Jeffrey Zack, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital emergency department, quick diagnosis and immediate isolation of the infected child have greatly diminished the possibility of an Island-wide outbreak. He credits Dr. Robert Partridge, who was on duty that night. “I can’t say enough about Dr. Partridge and the job he did,” Dr. Zack told The Times. “Doctors rarely if ever see measles these days. It could have easily been missed.”

Dr. Partridge, an emergency services doctor based at Emerson Hospital in Concord, does a rotation at the Vineyard and Nantucket hospitals once a month. “I’ve been practicing 23 years, and never seen a case of measles,” Dr. Partridge told The Times in a telephone call Tuesday. “Most doctors practicing today haven’t. [The infected child] didn’t have much fever. She had a little runny nose and a mild cough, but the rash was textbook measles.”

Dr. Partridge’s initial diagnosis was confirmed by a blood test, done in a DPH laboratory, on Friday night. Dr. Zack explained why MVH waited until Monday morning to announce it: “When we got the diagnosis, there were 30 doses of the vaccine at the hospital,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we had a plan in place, and then once we released the information, that we were set up for the demand. We also had a lot of information gathering to do.”

Hospital officials told The Times that since they announced the diagnosis Monday morning, they have been inundated with calls.


Plagued by success

The success the medical community has had in eradicating measles is ironically playing a part in its resurgence. “A lot of people don’t have any idea how devastating measles can be, because they weren’t around for it,” Dr. Zack said. “Before the vaccine, measles killed thousands and thousands of people. When a disease hasn’t been around for 50 years, people forget how bad it is, and it’s easier for some people to dismiss the importance of vaccinating.”

“That’s very much a factor,” Dr. Madoff said. “Measles has become less and less familiar to doctors and patients. It can have some potentially devastating and permanent consequences. But some people are swayed by a perceived risk, when it’s a very safe vaccine.”

Drs. Zack, Madoff, and Partridge said that misinformation, and its contagion on the Internet, has also undercut vaccination rates. In particular, they cite a 1997 study that supposedly linked the MMR vaccine to autism. The study, done by British physician Andrew Wakefield, was later roundly discredited due to procedural errors, financial conflicts of interest, and ethics violations, and Mr. Wakefield’s medical license was revoked in the U.K. His work, however, lives in perpetuity on the Internet.

Vineyard leads in exemptions

According to Massachusetts state law, vaccinations can only be forgone for medical and religious exemptions.

A DPH Health Immunization Program survey, released in March of this year, exposed just how vulnerable Island children are to vaccine-preventable diseases. The study measured vaccination rates for kindergarten students statewide over the 2013–14 school year.

It showed the state average for religious exemptions at 1 percent, while the seven schools surveyed in Dukes County registered an 18 percent exemption rate, by far the highest in the state, and three times the 6 percent in Nantucket County, which placed a distant second.

The study only surveyed schools with 30 students or more, so the Chilmark, Charter, and Montessori schools were not included in the total.

“Vaccination rates need to be over 90 percent, or it compromises herd immunity, which is critical to the health of the overall community,” Dr. Madoff said. Herd immunity refers to protecting a whole community by immunizing a critical mass of the population. “Herd immunity helps those who can’t physically be vaccinated survive. People with immunosuppressive problems, some of the elderly, and infants can’t get the vaccine,” Dr. Madoff said.

The DPH survey showed that 95 percent of Massachusetts kindergarteners received the MMR vaccine, while only 84 percent of Dukes County kindergarteners had the MMR vaccine. Statewide, 91 percent had the complete series of vaccinations required by Massachusetts public schools. Dukes County registered 73 percent, again the lowest in the state.

Edgartown School has the lowest exemption rate on the Island, 2.6 percent, and 100 percent of the kindergarten students have the MMR vaccine. Oak Bluffs School has an 8.2 percent exemption rate, with 92 percent of students MMR-vaccinated. Tisbury School has a 13.9 percent exemption rate, with 94 percent MMR-vaccinated students. West Tisbury School has a 26.2 percent exemption rate, with a 77 percent MMR vaccination rate.

The Island antivaccination trend was also evident in a DPH study of 7th graders for 2014–15. The five qualifying schools in Dukes County led the state in religious exemptions at 9 percent; Franklin County was the second highest at 3 percent.

Troubling trend spreading

Nationwide, measles is making a comeback. There were a record number of measles cases in the United States in 2014 — 668 cases from 27 states, the greatest number of cases since measles was “eliminated” in the U.S. in 2000, according to the CDC.

The virulent virus has made has several comeback tours in recent years.

There was a resurgence in the United States between 1989 and 1991, when 55,000 cases, 123 deaths, and 11,000 hospitalizations were reported. According to the CDC, the outbreak was due in large part to “low measles vaccine coverage among preschool-aged children.”

According to Pejman Talebian, chief of the immunization service at the DPH, “These pockets are not in lower-income city areas; they generally tend to be in middle- and upper-middle-class communities.”

Measles also recently showed its staying power in the U.K. In 2012 and 2013, an eight-month measles outbreak in and around Swansea, Wales, led to 1,219 diagnosed measles cases; one was fatal. Only 17 percent of school-age children had the MMR vaccination at the time of the outbreak, according to a report by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

“I think this episode underscores the fact that we are not an isolated community, especially these upcoming weeks when we have 100,000 people coming to our Island,” Dr. Zack said. “There’s a good opportunity here for education, and to remind people why we vaccinate. Not to point fingers, but the facts are the facts. I think people who don’t vaccinate need to reassess the risk, especially with children who can’t make these decisions themselves.”

If another case of measles is confirmed on the Island, the unvaccinated may have that decision made for them. State law states those who are susceptible to measles who do not receive a dose of vaccine within 72 hours after potential exposure must be excluded from public activities for 21 days. “All susceptibles, including those with medical or religious exemptions, are subject to vaccination,” the law states.

Read about the Vineyard’s measles diagnosis here.

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Martha’s Vineyard Community Services will take ownership of the former home of the Nathan Mayhew Seminars.

Martha's Vineyard Community Services will take ownership of the recently renovated Stephen Carey Luce house as part of the merger.

Less than a month after breaking ground for the Island Wide Youth Collaborative, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) is again expanding its real estate portfolio — this time by merging with the long-dormant Nathan Mayhew Seminars (NMS) and taking over the onetime headquarters of the organization; the Stephen Carey Luce house and Fanny Blair Hall on Greenwood Avenue in Vineyard Haven.

There is no quid pro quo in this merger. The NMS, a nonprofit that has essentially been inoperative for 15 years, is gifting a valuable property, free and clear, to MVCS, a nonprofit that has been growing at a rapid pace.

Chuck Hughes, NMS board president, said he was inspired to get involved in 2011, when he heard former NMS President Ted Box and Vineyard Haven businessman Rubin Cronig, watchmaker and owner of the AquaNaut shop on Main Street, were working to restore the 100-plus-year-old Luce house. Mr. Hughes, a veteran of a number of Island nonprofits, including the YMCA where he is a founding board member, said restoring the dilapidated NMS buildings, and restoring order to helter-skelter NMS ledgers, were the biggest challenges of his nonprofit career.

“The building was in horrible shape,” Mr. Hughes told The Times. “The roof leaked so badly, the front staircase looked like a waterfall when it rained. When we looked into the books, we couldn’t even tell if they’d used an accountant. They were way behind in the mortgage. They were eight years behind filing 990s [tax forms]. We found out there was an IRS lien for back taxes. The bank wasn’t even aware of that.”

Mr. Hughes gave high praise to Kim Angell at Vineyard Tax Matters for helping sort out the accounting morass. “Kim was an angel; thank God for her,” he said.

“This turned out to be a wonderful project, but when we were in the middle of it, it was daunting. The YMCA was a piece of cake compared to this,” he said, laughing.

The new board of directors of NMS had humble beginnings. “Initially the board was basically Chuck and me having coffee,” Mr. Cronig said. “We’d worked together on the Charter School board before, so we knew how to powerhouse through things. We didn’t assemble a feel-good board, we assembled a ‘get your hands dirty’ board.”

As the construction and reorganization work got into full gear, Mr. Hughes said, he ran into Nell Coogan, now the director of development and community relations at MVCS, who said she’d read about the project. “Nell said the Family Center needed to move, and she wanted to come over and take a look at the place,” Mr. Hughes said. “The new board decided if we were able to clean it up, Community Services should benefit. They have a similar mission to the [NMS] by providing education and a wide range of support to the Island community.”


Tisbury votes yes
A key piece of the funding came from Tisbury voters, in the form of Community Preservation Committee (CPC) funds. Board member Jeff Kristal, a Tisbury selectman and co-owner of the Crocker House Inn, suggested that the NMS board seek CPC funds, which support historic preservation, open space preservation, outdoor recreation, and affordable housing. Voters at the April 2012 annual town meeting approved two articles approving CPC funds for the NMS campus renovation — one for $10,000 for grounds cleanup and protection, invasive species removal, and landscape planning, and a second for $35,000 for the rehabilitation and replacement of the roof on the Luce House and other repairs.

Mr. Hughes said MVCS helped raise money, and private donors also contributed. NMS also sold a small slice of land to an abutting homeowner to help with the cost of retrofitting the building to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) codes. Mr. Hughes said most of the tradesmen did the work for below market price. “Many of them had kids that went to the Family Center when it was at the high school,” Mr. Hughes said. “They knew firsthand what a valuable resource it is to the Island.”
MVCS Executive Director Julie Faye said Islanders also made large donations in sweat equity. “It took two years and a lot of volunteers to make this happen,” she told The Times. “There was an enormous amount of work to be done. The buildings had fallen into terrible disrepair.”

Last spring, MVCS began leasing the first floor of the Luce house for the Martha’s Vineyard Family Center (MVFC), after it made the move from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, where it had been for 24 years.

Ms. Faye said that not long after the MVFC moved in, Mr. Hughes, Mr. Cronig, and other members of the NMS board approached MVCS with the merger proposition. “They said it doesn’t make sense for us to keep the building, since we don’t plan on reviving the seminars,” she said. “They came to us because they were being good citizens.”
Federal law requires that when two nonprofits merge, the charitable mission of both entities must survive. “Their charitable vision was education, and our family center is all about education,” Ms. Faye said. “The entire occupancy of the building is tied to an educational mission.”

MVCS has leased the upstairs of the Luce building to ACE MV and Island Grown Schools. Mr. Hughes said the income MVCS gets from subletting will more than cover operations and maintenance for the building.

The Fanny Blair building will continue to be used by for activities like Tai Chi, ballroom dancing, modern dance class, and a men’s meditation group.


Cycle of life

NMS was was founded in 1976 by Thomas Goethals, Jim Norton, and Woodrow Sayre. For more than 20 years, NMS offered lecture series and college-credit courses in conjunction with Northeastern University, UMass Dartmouth, Cape Cod Community College, and Boston University. Around 2000, as its board members aged, programming dwindled. As NMS activity declined, so went the condition of the grounds and buildings. After the merger is officially made later this month, NMS will be no more. But Mr. Hughes is sanguine about the change.

“Nathan Mayhew [Seminars] was wonderful,” Mr. Hughes said. “Then it grew old and stale. Nonprofits have a life cycle like anything else. If they can’t be sustainable, they ought to find a way of transferring their assets to another entity that can carry on.”
Mr. Hughes said that he, Mr. Cronig, and physician Dr. Henry Nieder will make up an advisory board, to make sure the building is maintained and that it fits the educational needs of the Island.
“We want to give the building free and clear of the mortgage and the lien,” he said. “Then, after we file our last 1099, we will disappear.”


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Unforeseen damage and permitting problems contributed to delays.

The old Martha's Vineyard Hospital emergency room is being turned into a walk-in clinic, but is well behind schedule.

Last September, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital CEO Tim Walsh told The Times that the no-longer-used emergency room in the old hospital building was being renovated for use as a walk-in clinic, to address the longstanding shortage of noncritical health care on Martha’s Vineyard. Mr. Walsh said the goal was to have the walk-in clinic operational by this summer. But although summer is well underway, Oak Bluffs Building Inspector Mark Barbadoro has yet to issue a building permit for the new clinic.

“There were a number of issues that needed to be resolved,” Mr. Barbadoro told The Times. “The initial problem was that in their haste, they gutted the place. I guess they thought they could just knock down 5,000 square feet of the building without consequence, but they really weren’t prepared in terms of having an actual functional plan.” Mr. Barbadoro said as an example, the wiring from the emergency generator was not up to code. “Critical branch wiring has to be fire-rated, and it wasn’t,” he said. “They literally had to dig it all out about a month ago.”

Mr. Barbadoro said the permitting process for building a health care facility requires understanding complicated building codes. For instance, there are different codes for “hospitals” and for “other health care facilities.” “It’s a very complicated process, and it can be difficult to get it right,” he said. “I also think they were expecting to get the kind of permitting they used to get around here. I was trying to push them to a higher standard, and caught them off guard a little bit.”

Mr. Barbadoro said the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) adds an additional layer of requirements. “Luckily they have a really smart architect, who’s working his way through it.”

“There were some issues, disagreements about what was to code, like the shielding of the wires, and how the alarms would sound in different places, but things are getting resolved,” Project Engineer John Lolley told The Times. “I think we’ll hit the ground running once we get our permit.” Mr. Lolley expressed a high degree of confidence in the construction company of record, Columbia Construction from North Reading. “I’ve worked with Columbia before,” he said. “I’ve had nothing but good experiences with them. They’re an excellent high-end contractor.”

Mr. Lolley was brought in late last summer when work revealed more damage to the building than expected, primarily the result of a notoriously leaky roof. “The frame was wood, and it was built over 40 years ago. It needed help,” he said.

Last week the Oak Bluffs planning board gave final approval to Mr. Lolley’s site plan for two new parking lots that will service the walk-in clinic and supplement hospital parking. “I’m working full-bore to have the plans finished by the end of the week,” he said.

Mr. Barbadoro said the completion of Mr. Lolly’s engineering plan, and final architectural drawings, were the last two items needed to issue the building permit approval. “The architect on a project this size is the point person who collects all the information that’s required to get a building permit,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll give me what I need. I’m anxious for them to get started.”

In a conversation with The Times on Wednesday, Steve VanNess, partner in charge of the project from Steffian Bradley Architects in Boston, said that the drawings are still in progress, and gave no time frame for their completion. “We want to make sure we’re meeting all the needs of the hospital,” he said.

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As casualties mount, state and local officials reevaluate the war on drugs.

Heroin and paraphernalia confiscated in a recent arrest in Edgartown. – Photo courtesy of the Edgartown Police Department

Opiates are an insidious, shapeshifting foe, and the leading cause of accidental death in Massachusetts. More than 1,000 people died of opiate overdoses last year in the Bay State. As the supply of pharmaceutical painkillers has diminished with increased oversight, heroin, a cheaper, stronger and more plentiful alternative, has filled that void, and its rapid ascendance is sending more and more people to the hospital, and to their graves.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a study in October last year that examined opiate addiction in 28 states, including Massachusetts, and found that heroin deaths doubled between 2010 and 2012. The Northeast and South had much larger heroin-overdose death increases — 211.2 percent and 180.9 percent, respectively.

Massachusetts State Police estimate there were at least 220 fatal heroin overdoses in the first three months of 2015. By mid-May of this year, Plymouth averaged an overdose a day, and had had at least 10 overdose deaths.

On Martha’s Vineyard, people on the front lines have seen a definite spike in heroin overdoses and the number of overdose deaths.

“I’d say in the past month or so, I’ve seen a threefold increase in the amount of [overdose] presentations that we’re seeing in emergency services,” Dr. Jeffrey Zack, director of emergency services at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, told The Times. “Most of the time it’s because people are cutting it with something.”

On June 8, after a weekend with multiple overdoses and one death in Provincetown, police issued a warning that tainted heroin was being distributed. Police also reminded people that Massachusetts has a Good Samaritan law, which says a person seeking medical help for someone having a drug-related overdose will not be charged or prosecuted for possession.

Heroin, painkillers. paraphernalia, and cash confiscated in a recent arrest by the Martha's Vineyard Drug Task Force. – Photo courtesy of the Edgartown Police Department
Heroin, painkillers. paraphernalia, and cash confiscated in a recent arrest by the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force. – Photo courtesy of the Edgartown Police Department

“Last year, on average, there was an overdose death here every other month,” Dr. Charles Silberstein, psychiatrist and board-certified addiction specialist at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, told The Times. “Since the beginning of this year, we’ve averaged one death per month. That’s counting Islanders who go off-Island, where heroin is less expensive and more available. There’s no doubt in my mind that the state statistics are a gross underestimation of the number of overdose deaths. It’s hard to prove overdose as the cause of death, and it’s often not recorded that way.”

A study by the Barnstable County Regional Substance Abuse Council (RSAC), released three months ago, reported deaths from heroin and prescription opiates had more than doubled on Cape Cod since 2012. Seventy-four percent of people said they knew someone who abused prescription drugs. The study estimated that the direct cost of substance abuse in 2013 was $110,085,000.

A Boston Globe/Harvard School of Public Health survey released last month asked Massachusetts residents about their attitudes toward opiate addiction, and compared those results with national averages. The study found 71 percent of Massachusetts adults believe heroin use is an extreme or very serious problem, compared with 45 percent nationally.

Robert Blendon, professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health, said he was “staggered” that 39 percent of Massachusetts adults reported knowing someone who has abused prescription drugs. He was also struck that only 36 percent of Bay State respondents said their doctor told them about the risks of taking opiates, less than half the national average of 61 percent. “For some reason in the Commonwealth, people who are taking painkillers do not have this conversation,” he said.


Mass effort

The Boston Globe/Harvard study also found that Massachusetts is also a progressive state when it comes to addiction treatment, stating, “Massachusetts residents are more aggressive than the rest of the country in pushing for tools to help addicts, both at the time of overdose and in treatment afterward…Massachusetts adults showed greater support for making naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, available to the public, and a greater willingness to require insurers to cover treatment for drug addiction.”

Massachusetts adults, by 58 percent to 36 percent, also favored requiring insurers to cover drug treatment, even if it raises their premiums, the study said.

In February, newly elected Gov. Charlie Baker appointed a 16-member working group to hold public meetings, assess the resources devoted to the problem, and submit “specific, targeted, and tangible recommendations” by May. “Opioid addiction is a problem that has touched far too many people in the Commonwealth,” he said at the press conference. “We are taking aggressive action on this issue, and have made it a top priority to get people the resources and education they desperately need to prevent and treat this disease.”

This Tuesday, Governor Baker delayed the release of the report until next week, when Attorney General Maura Healey will be back in the state from an Attorneys General conference in California. During her campaign, Ms. Healey, now the state’s top law enforcement officer, advocated reforming the criminal justice system to focus on substance abuse and mental health treatment, and not incarceration. Last month, Ms. Healey called for cheaper access to the anti-overdose drug Narcan, also known as naloxone, which has gone up in price concurrently with its rapid rise in demand. Narcan can reverse the effects of potentially fatal opioid overdoses, and has become de rigueur for many EMS crews.

Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel, responding to the Boston Globe/Harvard School of Public Health study, said state government needs to do a better job informing people about treatment successes. She also said that health officials must help combat the stigma of addiction so that more users, and their families, will seek help. 

New tactics
Beginning this month, Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello initiated a groundbreaking approach to battling the opiate scourge — the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (P.A.A.R.I.). “Addicts who ask the police department for help are be immediately taken to a hospital and placed in a recovery program. No arrest. No jail,” the Gloucester Police Department Facebook page states. The program is also known as the “Angel Program,” because police arrange for an “angel,” a volunteer with experience in recovery, to help guide the addict, and his or her family, through the first steps of recovery.

The program had its skeptics, especially after no one showed up at the police station on the first day, June 1. But this Tuesday, a post on the Gloucester Police Facebook page read, “We’ve done it 17 times in 15 days, and we are batting 17 for 17!”

The Boston Globe/Harvard survey showed that while most Massachusetts adults favor expanded coverage, only 33 percent believe that long-term treatment works.

“The tragedy [of that perception] is that people do get better,” Dr. Silberstein said. “When they get treatment, many become healthy members of society who lead productive lives.”

Although the relapse rate for opiate addicts is about 90 percent, according to the National Institute of Health, Dr. Silberstein said treatment programs that incorporate Suboxone significantly reverse that trend. Suboxone—buprenorphine—is a drug that blocks opiate receptors, making it nearly impossible for the recovering addict to get high. “The national average for staying sober on Suboxone is about 60 percent. But my experience is much higher here,” he said.

Suboxone is opiate-based, and therefore controversial in some circles.

“People report minimal or no craving with Suboxone,” Dr. Silberstein said. “Sometimes they taper off completely, and lead sober lives. Once they’re stabilized, the success rate is higher. I’ve never had anyone on Suboxone overdose.”

There are two doctors on the Vineyard who can prescribe Suboxone, Dr. Silberstein and Dr. David Gorenberg. Dr. Silberstein said that his practice accepts Harvard Pilgrim, Medicare, some private insurances, and some Blue Cross and Blue Shield policies. For those without accepted health insurance, an initial consult with Dr. Silberstein is $350. Follow-up sessions are $100. Patients must be active in their recovery, and submit to urine screens. Dr.Silberstein’s group therapy is free.

“Most [insurance plans] cover the cost of urine screens and other lab work. It’s much less expensive than maintaining a habit,” he said. “Suboxone is easier to access here than many other places, and it’s affordable to most people. All health insurance plans, including MassHealth, cover it.”

Dr. Gorenberg could not be reached for comment.

Dr. Silberstein stressed that Suboxone is only prescribed after the addict undergoes a thorough psychiatric evaluation and is active in his or her recovery. “It has to accompany other tools, like 12-step meetings, group therapy, social support, often psychotherapy,” he said. “We’re fortunate here on Martha’s Vineyard; we have some great options. New Paths is a fabulous intensive outpatient program.”


The fishing boat sank quickly off Dogfish Bar in about 50 feet of water. There were no injuries.

Station Menemsha responded to the report of a dragger that sank off Aquinnah. — File photo by J.B. Riggs Parker

Updated 2 pm, Tuesday

Two fishing boats, “The Pedlar” and the “Robert C” both out of Fairhaven, collided about one and a half miles northwest of Menemsha Harbor early Monday afternoon, resulting in the sinking of the Robert C. in approximately 50 feet of water.

“The Robert C went down really fast, probably in less than a minute,” Chilmark harbormaster Dennis Jason told The Times. “Both men were fishing alone. A lot of these small draggers have one operator. Sometimes they’re out on deck working and they lose track of the situation.”

The 40-foot Pedlar is captained by Walter Dixon. The 33-foot Robert C is captained by Douglas Soares, according to Mr. Jason.

On Tuesday morning, a Coast Guard spokesperson said, without identifying Mr. Soares, that the owner of the Robert C had no plans to raise the boat, a 1936 wooden vessel which was not insured. He was however in negotiations to engage a dive team that will either plug the vents or remove the 60 to 90 gallons of diesel fuel aboard the downed dragger. There was a visible sheen of diesel fuel on the water on Tuesday morning, however it poses no threat to the shoreline, according to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment will supervise the clean-up.

There were no injuries reported, but Mr. Jason said without the actions of a nearby lobster fisherman, the outcome could have been worse.  “Paul McDonald, the captain of the Shearwater, should be given a lot of credit,” Mr. Jason said. “He did a real nice job of picking Doug out of the water and bringing him into Menemsha.”

According to a Coast Guard spokesman, Station Menemsha got the distress call at 12:08 pm and a 47-foot response boat was immediately launched. After inspecting the scene in a 27-foot response boat, the Coast Guard determined that no environmental or navigational hazards resulted from the accident.

The cause of the collision has not been officially determined and the Coast Guard investigation is ongoing.