Health forum participants identify many needs


A group of about 30 Island residents and health care professionals identified mental illness, substance abuse, elderly health care and tick-borne diseases as the most pressing concerns for the Island population, at a public forum designed to identify community health care issues, Tuesday night at the Howes House in West Tisbury.

The public forum hosted by a planning group formed by the state Department of Public Health (DPH), one of two held this week, is the initial step in a process of awarding slightly more than $1 million in grants for community health services.

As part of the state determination of need approval process for new health care facilities, the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital must divert dollars to local projects. DPH generally requires that five percent of a project’s cost be diverted to community health initiatives.

The forums are meant to identify those needs. The second public forum will be held this evening, from 7 to 8:30 pm, at the Vineyard Haven Public Library.

Mediator Paddy Moore and Robert Tonti, chief executive officer of Vineyard Nursing Association, led the wide ranging discussion Tuesday.

The audience included mostly health care agency professionals and several town health agents, including Matt Poole of Edgartown and John Powers of West Tisbury. Their comments, largely collegial and devoid of lobbying, described an Island community with pressing needs and a complementary, if fragile, system of care providers.

Speakers drew a picture of Island health issues compounded by a seasonal economy, an aging population nearly double the state average age, and the highest rates of depression and substance abuse in the state.

Speakers identified the cost of Island living as stressful, along with an unwillingness to seek expensive medical care. They linked the economy to mental illness, substance abuse, and domestic violence.

Several in the audience said that the Island benefits from a strong sense of community but is less self-sufficient than it was. “We see more people going off-Island for health care than we used to,” said one speaker.

Discussion also centered on risky sexual behavior and substance abuse by the Island’s youth and on the relative value of treatment versus prevention.

Sarah Kuh, director of Vineyard Health Care Access and the mother of an 11-year old, favored early education and information for young children. “I’m interested in education for parents as well as for children in primary school. Work with families from the beginning to avoid poor choices and risky behavior,” she said.

The CHI process will result in requests for proposals from organizations to fund programs dealing with health care issues that are identified. The DPH requires community health spending to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities and their social determinants, promote wellness in the home, workplace, school and community, and prevent and manage chronic disease.