Martha's Vineyard Hospital : John Fergusonís chairmanship ends on a high note
This month John Ferguson, a seasonal West Tisbury resident, concludes an eight-year tenure as chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (MVH). He took the job in 2002, during a tumultuous period of high-profile staff departures and financial uncertainty at the Island’s health care hub.
Mr. Ferguson, the former president and chief executive of Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, pledged to make MVH one of the best rural hospitals in the country.
The Times invited Mr. Ferguson to discuss his tenure and the challenges that lie ahead.
After years of reading about the difficulties that Martha Vineyard Hospital (MVH) faced, I found it exciting to be in a position to help initiate some much-needed changes. In 2002, the hospital faced a variety of threatening issues. A report from a health care consultant in Maine outlined a troubling picture of mistrust and poor relationships, both inside and outside the hospital.
The community was weary of broken promises, and reluctant to support an institution that appeared unstable and many chose to receive their health care off-Island. The hospital and the adjoining Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center were operating at a loss. Many medical services of the hospital were lacking. Having been originally constructed in 1929, the wooden physical plant needed replacement. Relationships between administration and the medical staff had deteriorated to the point that several prominent physicians had left the hospital.
The leadership of the hospital was the first component to be examined. Tim Walsh was selected as the new CEO, and it was apparent that the board needed to change its composition and philosophy. New members were recruited to formulate and implement the new vision for MVH, and that was to make it the best rural hospital in the nation.
Having experienced both sides of the situation in my own roles as a hospital CEO and hospital board member, I felt I was in a unique position to suggest that the board allow the hospital administration more autonomy, less micro-managing from the board. It was difficult at first, but the management team brought a new spirit of much-needed collaboration and cooperation between the administration, the medical staff, and community-at-large, in setting new standards and goals for the hospital. A comprehensive programmatic and facility master plan was developed. The plan included a physician staffing plan that grew out of several meetings between physicians, hospital leadership and trustees.
While bringing about management and financial stability, the board recognized the need to gain support from the community, without which our plan never would have succeeded. We gathered consensus among Islanders, actively getting out in the community at occasions that were affectionately known as “house invasions” – gatherings of groups from six to 60 in homes across the Island explaining our plan and strategy and listening to the health care needs of the residents.
Our attempt to reach out and involve the community was a necessary effort to heal the many years of poor communication between the hospital and those that it would care for. A master plan, which outlined the strategic direction that was needed to bring MVH into the 21st century, was developed and presented at public forums. One year after unveiling plans for the most expensive construction project and most ambitious fundraising goal in Vineyard history, $20 million in pledged donations had been committed, nearly half of the $42 million needed to build a hospital.
Warren Spector of Chilmark and Frank Biondi of Edgartown led the capital campaign. Gravitas is a word heard in connection with presidential candidates, but these two men added that with their support of the project and their enthusiastic fundraising. In May 2007, five years under new leadership, the capital campaign announced that our goal had been surpassed. The tally was $46.5 million. There were approximately 1,700 donors, of which 800 were Island residents. A committee chaired by residents Edward Miller of Chilmark and Tuna Kiersted of Edgartown hosted a series of gatherings that were attended by hospital CEO Tim Walsh and vice chairman of the board Tim Sweet. From these efforts, $7 million was donated, a true testament to residents’ belief in our mission to provide quality health care.
During this process, physicians were hired to fill the gap in the delivery of health care services. Then in March 2007, MVH officially became an affiliate of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and a member of Partners Health Care Systems. The affiliation with MGH allowed us to enhance the care provided to our patients. We now have access to advanced information systems, and our doctors have access to educational programs and highly specialized physician consultative services. What a difference eight years can make.
In the spring of 2002, the hospital was about to begin the search for a new CEO. The hospital ended the fiscal year with an $800,000 loss. At Windemere, first quarter budget figures reflected a loss of $36,000. Today, the hospital and nursing home are showing profits. Aside from the financial picture, morale at both facilities is very high. There is a new sense of pride at being affiliated with one of the best rural hospitals in the country. The new facility is far more functional, attractive and carries no debt – a significant feat in these difficult economic times.
There are many challenges that lie ahead for MVH. Continuously improving performance of our hospital is without a doubt one of the most important challenges that we face. We have to constantly improve the quality of the health care we provide, while at the same time controlling the cost. MVH will face the challenge of keeping up with new technologies that, despite greatly adding to cost in many cases, have also yielded significant benefits in the form of better health.
A new hospital has brought something long missing for the Island’s sole provider of comprehensive medical care – a ”Place of Pride.” For the first time, MVH has all the pieces in place. Outstanding health care providers that are passionate about providing the highest quality of care; a management team that is committed to a responsible fiscal stewardship; a board of trustees that is unwavering in its resolve to become the best it can be, and a community that is unified in its passion for a hospital that is healthy, compassionate, and committed to excellence.
There are so many people who worked very hard to build this beautiful institution and make it the best rural hospital in the nation. I feel very proud to have been part of the new direction for Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.