Could Oak Bluffs be last stop for First Stop?

Site puts services for seniors at the stroke of a key.

The First Stop MV website, funded through contributions from the six Martha's Vineyard towns, could be in jeopardy. The finance committee in Oak Bluffs says the site duplicates services already provided on a state site.

With an ever-aging population and a strong year under its belt, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services is going back to voters across the Island to keep its First Stop MV website going.

But if Oak Bluffs says yes to the request at the Tuesday, April 11, town meeting, it’ll do so without the recommendation of the town finance committee. All six towns are being asked to fund their share of the nearly $87,000 budget, but the Oak Bluffs finance committee has refused to endorse the town’s $18,320 share.

Paddy Moore, chairman of Healthy Aging MV, is concerned the site, which her organization helped get off the ground in 2015, could be in jeopardy.

At issue is concern at the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging that First Stop duplicates efforts already made by the local council and by a state program known as Mass Options, which is a statewide database of programs for seniors compiled by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

“The two pieces can work together,” Ms. Moore said. The Island site is more specific, detailed, and contains local information, such as the location of community suppers not found on the state site, she said.

Now that First Stop is part of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS), it provides social service resources beyond information solely for seniors on its site. Among the listings are access information for food distribution, health benefits, homeless services, cancer support groups, and other programs.

“It’s very narrow in what it does,” Juliette Fay, executive director of MVCS, said of the Mass Options site. “Our effort is very robust.”

Indeed, clicking through the two sites, it’s easy to find information on Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands on First Stop, but you have to know to search for it on the Mass Options site.

Jason Balboni, chairman of the Oak Bluffs finance committee, said the feedback the committee received from the council on aging is that seniors are covered by what the council does and Mass Options.

“It’s a duplication of services that doesn’t need to be paid for by taxpayers of the town,” Mr. Balboni said. “I do believe it’s duplicative.”

Rose Cogliano, council on aging director, did not respond to a message left by the Times.

Michelle Hillman, a spokeswoman for Mass Options, provided a five-page information sheet on the program, but did not immediately respond to the specific question about whether the Island program duplicates the website.

Ms. Moore and Ms. Fay contend the two sites complement each other, that First Stop reaches a lot of seniors, and that those numbers are growing. In March there were close to 2,400 visits to the First Stop website, compared with less than 1,000 the previous year, according to data provided by Ms. Moore and Ms. Fay.

“It fills an important need,” Ms. Moore said.

On each town ballot a second question seeks funds for CORE (Counseling Outreach and Referral for the Elderly), which is working with First Stop to reach as many Island residents as possible to make them aware of services for homebound seniors. The six-town cost of that program is $53,000.