Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard presses forward

The goal now is to find ways to address the needs highlighted in a recent survey of Island seniors, a rapidly growing group.


State Representative Denise Garlick, chairman of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs, told a group gathered in the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center Monday that a “social movement” is needed to provide eldercare services, and that the Island-wide coalition Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard (HAMV) has created should serve as a model.

“This is the way to do it,” Rep. Garlick (D-Needham) told about 70 citizens and healthcare professionals at an HAMV public forum at the Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven to hear a report on the key findings and priorities of the Island Senior Survey conducted last fall, and to launch new working groups to address the priorities the survey identified.

HAMV is a consortium of Island caregiver organizations which has been assessing Island elder care needs and building a grassroots movement to meet them over the past several years.

All six annual town meeting warrants, four of which were held Tuesday, include HAMV-sponsored articles in support of eldercare services, HAMV chairman Paddy Moore reminded attendees. Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury voters passed the measures Tuesday night. Tisbury voters were to vote on Wednesday at the second night of Tisbury annual town meeting.

Outgoing Cape and Islands State Rep. Tim Madden introduced

Rep. Garlick. He described her as “the most passionate and knowledgeable legislator on elder care needs.”

“When Denise speaks, we listen,” he said. Both legislators serve on the Elder Affairs Committee.

The HAMV group this week established work groups for four near-term priorities, working from the results of a survey of Island seniors last fall, according to chairman Paddy Moore. Ms. Moore outlined the initiatives:

“Based on what we learned, we will work toward achieving and maintaining the physical health of our seniors by recruiting more primary care doctors and specialists, including dentists, and by providing geriatric care training to Island service providers.

“Second, we need programs for housing modifications — support bars in bathrooms, better lighting in and outside homes — to allow seniors to remain in their homes. Another rubric is the need for affordable housing for seniors and for the workforce that will support them. We also need to use technology — alert and monitoring systems and GPS — in seniorcare.

“Third, more affordable and accessible transportation is needed. Limited mobility to get to a bus stop and increased availability of lifts on transport will be addressed.

“Fourth, caregiver need support, and we will work to develop a network to provide caregiver respite.”

Martha’s Vineyard is at the epicenter of the aging boom, with growth rates of seniors and elderly far above the state and national average, Peter Temple, executive director of the Island Donors Collaborative, told the gathering Monday. He provided statistical information to back up that statement.

“The Vineyard’s 65-plus population will more than double by 2030, growing 134 percent, far outpacing the national situation (81 percent growth). And it almost triples by 2060,” he said. While there are nearly 5,000 seniors living on the Island, “by 2030, one in three residents will be seniors,” he predicted.

“We can do a lot better. We spend $3.5 billion on elder services in Massachusetts, but no one — no one — believes we are doing enough,” Rep. Garlick said of statewide journeys she’s made around eldercare issues.

“Councils on Aging (COA), for example, are the most important community elder service groups,” she said. “They know what’s going on. But based on current state funding, your Martha’s Vineyard COAs will receive $36,000, total, for the fiscal year.”
Rep. Garlick, a registered nurse, former Needham selectman, and town health official, said personal experience with the state of elder affairs in her own town galvanized her. “I took a year off and delivered meals to homes in Needham,” she said. “Given my public service, I didn’t think there was anything you could tell me about my town that I didn’t know. But I was shocked to see what really happens behind the nice doors.”