Hospital fundraisers want you
Having raised $30 million by appealing to seasonal and year-round residents with the means to make large donations, the leaders of the campaign to rebuild the Martha's Vineyard Hospital have turned to the wider Vineyard community to reach the $42 million goal.
Hospital officials said that raising the final $12 million could not be done without the financial support of those who most rely on the hospital, a target group they have defined as the 6,500 households of registered Vineyard voters. The challenge, they said, is to gain their trust and confidence in the hospital's plans for the future.
The legendary Massachusetts politician and former Speaker of the House Thomas "Tip" O'Neil said that all politics is local. Hospital leaders are relying on a core strategy that is personal in a community where everything is local.
Over the past two months, ads appealing for contributions featuring well-known Islanders have appeared in both Island newspapers as part of a campaign titled "A New Beginning, Building for the Next Generation."
In one such ad, Chilmarker Bridget Tobin, the Vineyard Haven Steamship terminal manager, states: "We need a new hospital. It's my responsibility and the responsibility of every single member of this community to contribute what we can to make sure we get one."
At the same time, a committee of Islanders chaired by Edward Miller of Chilmark, a hospital board member, has taken the capital campaign to Island living rooms. Beginning in December, individual committee members began hosting small get-togethers attended by hospital CEO Tim Walsh and Tim Sweet, chairman of the building committee.
The faces change but the format is the same. Over hors d'oeuvres or dinner and using a projector, Mr. Walsh and Mr. Sweet describe the crumbling state of the existing facility and the reasons underpinning the board's decision to build new on the current site, and what the community can expect for the $42 million price tag.
Living room pitch
On a bitterly cold Friday night, a cross-section of Vineyarders made their way to the living room of Edward Miller and his wife, Monina Von Opel. The invited guests included several Island contractors, a metal artist, a hardware store owner, attorneys, a West Tisbury selectman, local realtors, two doctors, a Chilmark librarian and a Times reporter.
Mr. Sweet began the hospital presentation by telling the two dozen guests seated around the living room that $12 million is no small amount of money and hospital leaders had "great concern about how Islanders feel about the hospital."
He said a new building had been needed for a long time but, acknowledging past financial and leadership problems, he said hospital leaders were unwilling to proceed with a building plan while those issues lingered.
Mr. Sweet said that under Mr. Walsh, the hospital had made great strides in all areas and anticipated its highest surplus ever when the fiscal year ends in March. On the other side of the ledger, he said, "The facility is old and tired and cannot continue much longer."
Picking up on that theme, Mr. Walsh described the outdated building's deficiencies and the regulations that prevent continuing medical use, including a wooden roof and a mechanical infrastructure that no longer meets current codes or demands.
Turning to the future, he said the hospital already lacked sufficient space and that the space problem would only worsen with the aging of the Island's year-round population and the growing demand for services that population will present.
Mr. Walsh said renewed confidence in the hospital and the addition of more primary care doctors and specialized services had increased patient volume and profitability.
Using a series of graphs and charts, Mr. Walsh highlighted the expected growth in all categories. "We have a facility that is too small for what we are trying to do with it now," he said.
The decision to rebuild on the current site, said Mr. Walsh, was made because the alternative, building on a new site, would require an estimated $70 million and threaten the survival of Windemere, the Island's only nursing home.
He said that when an initial $55 million estimate for a total rebuild was presented at public forums, "People told us we were nuts." To cut costs, hospital planners focused on building only new clinical space and using the existing building for administrative space. "Forty-two million dollars for a small hospital is a huge amount of money," said Mr. Walsh.
In the question and answer session that followed, guests asked about the design, the permitting and building schedule and cost projections. No one questioned the need for a new facility.
Mr. Sweet emphasized that the permitting and fundraising must come together. He said the board is determined not to begin construction and face debt service if all the money cannot be raised.
Asked by Trip Barnes of Vineyard Haven, a trucker and auctioneer, if he expected difficulty with the Martha's Vineyard Commission, Mr. Sweet said, "To be frank, sure." The commission has questioned the hospital decision to rebuild on the current site and engaged in an exercise to locate alternative locations.
One person asked if the MVC could delay the project. Mr. Sweet said the commission's regulatory process is loaded with uncertainty. "You are never quite sure what you are going to bump into," he said.
Brock Callen of Chilmark questioned the reliability of the financial projections. Mr. Walsh, the hospital's former chief financial officer, said the projections are very conservative on the hospital side. Regarding Windemere, he estimated that it would continue to break even.
In response to another question from Mr. Callen, Mr. Walsh said that even assuming patient volumes stay the same, a new building would provide economies of scale, but he added, "It is a very conservative estimate on volumes."
John Anderson of West Tisbury, a house painting contractor and a member of the fundraising committee, asked what would happen to the hospital if the $42 million cannot be raised.
"It is not an option," said Mr. Sweet. "The hospital will continue to deteriorate."
Regarding the alternatives, Mr. Walsh said there would still be a hospital. "But there will be days you won't be able to get service."
At the conclusion of the presentation, Mr. Anderson made a final pitch that reflected the evening's theme. "Tell a friend; tell two friends; tell three friends," said Mr. Anderson. "That's what we need to get people involved. We need people to understand."
As each person left he or she received a folder containing a description of the hospital's plans and ways to contribute.
He believes in it
Edward Miller said the idea to form a committee came from the community. He said Islanders approached members of the board and said that it was their hospital and they wanted to be involved.
He said it is a challenge to overcome the skepticism that still lingers about the hospital, despite much recent good news, including four years of increased revenue. But the opportunity to get together in small groups makes a difference. "When it is all there in front of you and you see the line going down to 2002 and then coming back up again and the reasons why, it all starts making sense to people," he said.
Mr. Miller said one limiting factor is that the logistics of the weekly living room presentations mean that the hospital leaders can only reach approximately 20 percent of the people they want to reach. He said they hope that, whenever there are discussions about the hospital, someone will be present who attended one of the presentations and can correct any misinformation.
"My firm belief is that this is for the community, and this is their hospital," said Mr. Miller. "Yes, it has an active emergency room in the summertime, and that is very important, but for those of us who live on this Island, the hospital is important to us, and we should know what is really going on."
Mr. Miller is aware of the negative stories surrounding the hospital in the past. He decided to join the hospital board only after extensive research into the hospital's new leadership team and its financial performance.
"And I thought, this is a real story," said Mr. Miller. "They really are doing a hell of a job here. So I joined the board."
He signed on when the local campaign began, he said.
"As a voter here and as a resident, I thought that there was nothing more important for the overall Islanders than having a high-quality health service on the Island," he said. "And that's why I got involved."