Updated Tuesday, March 7
To the Editor:
The announcement to the Island community two weeks ago that the Wildflower Court unit at Windemere has suspended admissions and is likely to close has raised issues about our nonprofit hospital’s core mission to the community. Many have raised legitimate questions about the management and leadership at Windemere. How could such a significant action be taken without any public discussion or attempt to engage the community? How could the unit be permitted to atrophy and die without any clear vision for future services? Why have admissions to Wildflower Court been so “difficult,” and how long ago were admissions to the unit closed?
The probable-closing announcement, via a press release that was sent to the local papers and hospital staff, was tone-deaf, unilateral, and without any consideration for the affected families. I know this firsthand, as my brother-in law is a current resident. The newspaper articles and the official hospital press release said that the administration had contacted us and was working to provide for other placement options. There has been no offer of help or meaningful discussion of our brother’s circumstances as of this date. And we notice that several resident rooms on the floor have already been taken over for administrative offices. Attempts to get clear information about the future of the unit from the hospital CEO, Joseph Woodin, have proved futile, and there has been no assurance to our family that the homes of the affected residents are safe and grandfathered into any future hospital plans. Instead of being clear or reassuring, the message has been nothing beyond that the hospital is “analyzing its options for closing.”
Whatever their plans for the future use of the space, however long the deliberations have been underway among the trustees and administration about Wildflower Court, there has been a basic failure to recognize the human toll, in stress, confusion, and disappointment that their decisions have produced on the residents and their families. We are suddenly being asked to create housing options that, in the case of my brother-in-law, don’t exist on the Island outside his current home in Wildflower Court.
Reassuring the families that their loved ones have a future home is the FIRST THING the hospital should have done, and it is the RIGHT THING to do NOW, as we move forward with a public conversation about the future of elder care at our community hospital.
I don’t dispute the hospital’s right to modify its programs to meet the changing health needs of the Island, and the political landscape for reimbursement, but I do have a problem with my brother-in-law being part of the collateral damage of poor management, and I think that the board and trustees owe the community far better than this. This community raised more than $40 million to renovate and expand our hospital, and turned it over to Partners HealthCare* with the assurance that they would continue their nonprofit mission of serving the Island community — particularly the services for the aged, disabled, and vulnerable, those relying on Medicare and Medicaid.
My family has supported the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital for the 29 years we have lived here. When Windemere opened its doors, we produced a pro bono video, “Windemere: Our Island Home,” narrated by Patricia Neal. At that time, Dr. Russell Hoxie and his wife, with a full house of elders, lived on Wildflower Court. It was a booming place filled with life and caring. We also made pro bono videos for the hospital’s Island Life Campaign, for Community Services, for the YMCA’s Capital Campaign to communicate the visions and plans for these organizations and to help raise millions of dollars for operating expenses and endowments. The same could surely be done for Windemere’s Wildflower Court.
If the administration has been stymied in their efforts to make Windemere pay its way, then why has there been NO EFFORT made of any kind to raise an endowment for elder services at the hospital? Just today I opened mail appeals for both Partners HealthCare’s Global Work and Mass General Hospital’s endowment. How ironic that we can be reached for a donation to the parent organization, but our local hospital leadership hasn’t engaged in a similar local effort.
My brother-in-law is 72 years old, and has suffered with chronic schizophrenia for 50 years. For years he worked for the Tisbury Department of Public Works, helping townspeople sort their recyclables, and was a scorekeeper for the local softball league. Today, his age and medical issues require the oversight he gets at Wildflower Court. His sister takes him for rides, for errands and coffee, many times a week. He comes to our house in Vineyard Haven to visit and for family occasions, but at the end of every day he’ll say, “Time to go home.” HOME for him is Windemere, and the lovely staff that make him feel safe and welcome. For him, there are no living options other than Windemere, whose mission statement states clearly that it is committed to the needs of the elderly, including those with mental disabilities. Steve requires precisely the home he’s enjoyed at Wildflower Court, and he is loved by the staff. He is a sweet man who has taught me a great deal about resilience, and today at Windemere he is happy, adjusted, and receives the oversight he requires. He is precisely the person that Wildflower Court should welcome, help, and protect.
We are now well beyond the shock of the announcement, and our community is raising legitimate concerns for the future of elder care on the Island. As we move forward, I call on the hospital administration to take off the table the futures of the families caught in the middle of your deliberations by providing assurances of their continued care at Windemere. This would mark a new beginning in a dialogue about the facility’s future. As for our family, we believe in the importance of the hospital and Windemere as much today as we did in years past when we worked, like so many other members of this community, to support its mission. We could and would do that again in a heartbeat.
*An earlier version of this letter stated that “Partners in Health” oversees Windemere and Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. It is actually Partners HealthCare that manages the hospital.