A question of governance with VNA


The collapse of the Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) has not been fully accounted for. It is not enough to say merely, as its leaders have in terse – just the facts – terms that it has closed its doors and that in disappearing it did a good job of protecting its patients and employees from harm. There have actually been no facts, no forthright description of how this longstanding and cherished organization got itself into a mess that made it unable to continue, unable to meet its obligations to its customers, employees, and vendors, and unwilling even to tell its supporters and donors, in detail, what happened.

Important nonprofit organizations that perform valuable services to this community, that beg annually for private and public financial support from Islanders and taxpayers elsewhere – and get it – owe not only to the donors but to the community at large a complete explanation.

It is important that the leadership of VNA do so, because the Island community was enormously invested in this organization and in many cases depended upon it. It is important in a broader sense, because there are lessons to be learned. This page has often remarked upon what has too often been the case in important private and public Island organizations – namely weak, inexperienced, informal, casual, and self-referential governance. And, we have argued that leaders of such organizations are ultimately and completely responsible. They need training in the practice of good and demanding governance, and that such training often needs to be found off-Island, where it is available and helpful. There is something to be learned about governance from the VNA mess and the decision making of those entrusted with the responsibility for the organization’s conduct.

How is it that the management and, especially the board, of the VNA failed to see the consequences of reimbursement changes that would damage the organization’s revenues? How is it that it failed to move early to adjust for those changes? How is it that, as these changes occurred and the implications became apparent, the VNA chose to commit itself to an expensive new headquarters, for which the rationale was the coming expansion of demand for home care services that, alas, the VNA will now never provide? How is it that an effort to sell to the Cape Cod nursing agency collapsed and the efforts to find a lifeline, first from Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and then from Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, were unavailing?

It is understandable that the Cape outfit accepts no obligation to explain to Islanders why it decided not to buy the VNA after announcing that it would. It is not understandable that the leadership of the VNA should remain silent.

Those questions must be answered by Michael A. Goldsmith, chairman of the VNA and a lawyer; Patti Young, secretary; Jack Law, vice president; Mort Fearey, treasurer; and members Allen Keith, Karen Kennedy, Ursula Kreskey, Diane Nordin, Joan Coles Potter, Edie Radley, and Robert Tonti, the operating face of the organization, who styled himself its CEO, a term more familiarly used in the context of a Fortune 500 corporation.

VNA has collapsed, but its responsibility to the Vineyard community remains.