VNA opens a capital campaign

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The Vineyard Nursing Association has begun a capital campaign to fund the purchase of the building that houses its office, off State Road in Vineyard Haven. The purchase of the building will enable the VNA, Martha’s Vineyard’s only certified home health care agency, to expand its community programs and increase the size of its staff — a step critical to meeting the growing demand for home health care services on the Vineyard, according to a statement released Tuesday by the home health care organization.

“Today,” Amy Houghton, VNA’s head of the campaign, “there are 35 million people over the age of 85 living in the United States. By 2020, that number will double; while, at the same time, the number of doctors serving the elderly is decreasing. The Vineyard is a microcosm of what is happening nationally, where the population older than 65 is expected to grow 80 percent by 2020.”

The fundraising campaign has an added urgency, Ms. Houghton explained, because the existing, one-time-only opportunity to buy the building will expire on March 31, 2011. The purchase price for the 15 Merchant’s Court building, across from the Black Dog State Road Cafe, is $2,028,000.

“The need for the VNA’s home health care services has doubled in five years,” VNA chief executive officer Robert Tonti said. “With baby boomers reaching senior citizen stage, we need to plan for the anticipated growth in homecare needs. Buying the building is a critical first step and gives us the space to expand and meet not only our community’s present needs, but its future ones as well.”

In additional to the national statistics, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs forecasts an 80 percent increase in the next 10 years of people living on Martha’s Vineyard who are 65 and older. That number represents 21 percent of the total Island population.

The number of annual home visits by VNA staff has risen sharply since 2005, increasing from 15,000 to 34,000 and fueling a corresponding growth in staff size. The agency now includes 70 nurses, therapists, home health aides, and social workers, making it one of the largest year-round employers on the Island.

This growth, and resultant space constraints, have already led the VNA to relocate twice in recent years. And although original plans called for the agency to move into the new Martha’s Vineyard Hospital facility, the organization has grown too large for the space. The VNA previously had been housed in the old hospital for 20 years, before hospital renovations began.

“Having the entire Merchant’s Court building will give the VNA room to expand its community support groups,” Ms. Houghton said. “to accommodate new programs such as Adult Day Health; to hold professional training classes and interdisciplinary conferences; and to store nursing and physical therapy supplies as well as patient health records. As it stands, the agency is already outgrowing its current location where it occupies half the building. Among other signs of strain, the VNA has been unable to accommodate the number of people interested in enrolling in programs like the Stroke Support Group. Staff members, meanwhile, are forced to share desks.”

“Like many on the Island, the VNA needs a home,” attorney Michael Goldsmith, chairman of the VNA board, said. “We have moved twice in the last four years and we’d like to avoid that disruption in the future. But it is more than that. This particular building is a great fit for us on many levels: it has ample and appropriate space; provides flexibility for future expansion; has good parking; and is centrally located so that our staff will spend minimum time in transition or bogged down in traffic. Plus, we think the price is right and we are staring at an opportunity to continue our path to greater long-term fiscal stability.”

The VNA, founded in 1984, supports the Island community through a variety of programs: home health care services for acute illnesses; town nursing, vaccination and blood pressure clinics; wellness checks for senior citizens and new babies; support to keep disabled people of all ages safe in their homes; and private duty care. Services are available to year-round and seasonal residents regardless of ability to pay.