You only have one chance to make a good first impression, and Denise Schepici seems keenly aware she has to make that impression leading an organization that’s been under the microscope after a tumultuous year.
During a Times visit to her office inside the hospital last week, Schepici smiled widely as she discussed her first two months at the helm. “It’s great. It’s felt like a real privilege to be here,” she told The Times. “The hospital has some really strong programs, and some really great people working here.”
Sitting in the office during the interview was Katrina Delgadillo, interim communications director at the hospital. That job, which didn’t exist before, is a sign from Schepici that she understands the hospital needs to change the narrative in the community.
“There’s a good story to tell here. I’m not keeping it top secret,” Schepici said.
During her first week on the job, Schepici showed up on the weekend to meet with staff in the hospital’s emergency department. “The nurses were shocked when I showed up on a Saturday in the ED and just said, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’” she said. “That’s just my style.”
Face-to-face meetings and lunches with about 20 employees at a time are just a couple of the ways Schepici is attempting to get to know and assess the hospital staff.
“Most of the time it’s about what they’re doing here, how long they’ve been here, how they got here, so it’s more personal and informal, and the responses I’ve gotten from people are, ‘Wow, nobody’s ever asked me what I like,’” she said. “It’s just getting to know people, because people is what our business is all about.”
Out in the community, she’s met with the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital Concerned Citizens Group and other stakeholders, such as Healthy Aging MV.
“She appears to be very attuned to what people are asking for in terms of responsiveness,” said Victor Capoccia, one of the leaders of the concerned citizens group. Key issues like addiction, aging, and long-term care appear to be on her radar, he said. “We’re optimistic,” he said. “All the things you want an administrator to be expressing an interest in, we heard.”
Of course, the group was mostly concerned with the hospital’s board of trustees. Whether the board will be as responsive as Schepici remains to be seen, he said. “People have said, Give it some time, and we’re willing to do that,” Capoccia said.
Schepici is hoping to get even more input from the community by holding forums. “Maybe before this crazy summer rush, I’d like to get in a couple of town meetings to meet and greet, answer questions,” Schepici said. “Dispelling the myths is important. We are a really warm, wonderful community within the community here.”
Paddy Moore, chair of Healthy Aging MV, has also been impressed by Schepici’s leadership and willingness to talk about issues like dementia that affect the elderly population. “I’m very impressed with her. She’s smart. She asks the right questions. She’s community-oriented,” Moore said.
Schepici seems to understand the challenges she faces attracting primary-care physicians to the Island and the need to introduce what’s known as Patient Centered Medical Home, a style of health care that incorporates nurse practitioners under the supervision of a primary-care physician, Moore said.
Late last month, the hospital added a primary-care physician, who will start soon, Schepici said. She is in the process of trying to attract more doctors to the Island, which is a challenge, but not one that Schepici thinks is insurmountable.
“It’s almost priority No. 1 for me right now,” Schepici said of adding staff. “Our primary-care physicians, they’re aging out, they’re retiring. They’ve served this community for so long, so replacing them is top of my mind right now.”
Educating the public and some of the hospital’s staff about the Patient Centered Medical Home model is also high on the priority list, she said. “What we want them to know is you can get to your doctor, but you can get to your nurse practitioner as well. Probably more readily,” she said. “The younger population is more used to that. I’m trying to balance the newness of the model with keeping some traditional context for patients.”
Housing is a big issue in attracting new talent to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, not so much at the doctor level, but for other staff, Schepici said. “The availability of affordable housing is a problem for all employers,” she said. “It especially worries me for our mid-level and lower-income workers, because they’re the nuts and bolts of this hospital.”
There are other ways to attract staff. “What I try to sell is the same thing that landed me here — the quality of life on the Island,” she said. “It’s not for everybody, but I’m going to sell it.”
Schepici was sold on her very first visit to Martha’s Vineyard as a teenager. A friend had a summer home in Oak Bluffs, and Schepici fell in love with this place, particularly the beaches. “I knew someday I would live here,” she said.
She’s spent many long days on the Island’s beaches soaking in the sun (more covered up these days, after a skin cancer scare) and beachcombing. Like a fisherman protecting his favorite spot to land a striper, Schepici was coy about her favorite sea glass hunting spot.
She loves the Island so much that she and her husband spent their honeymoon on Martha’s Vineyard. And long before the couple purchased a seasonal, and now permanent, home in Vineyard Haven, they spent time camping or in garages “you wouldn’t put your dog in” to make sure they could keep coming back.
The impression Schepici leaves is that she doesn’t want to screw up this opportunity because of that love affair with Martha’s Vineyard. “I want to hear what we’re doing well, what we need to work on,” she said. “We’re an asset to the community, and we want them to know we’re here for them and take our job seriously.”
Here are Schepici’s answers on everything from the hospital’s mission to her perfect Vineyard day.
On the hospital’s mission statement: “We have a unique mission here as a rural access hospital, to safeguard the health of our residents and visitors. I take that pretty seriously … This is a small Island; people know if you’re BSing them.”
On making quick changes: “That’s the kiss of death, really. I’m very collaborative. I take a lot of input from the doctors and nurses. If I’m going to start a new program, that’s with a team … I’ll make the decision as a leader if I have to. The best way to make a decision for change is to be inclusive, and that’s my style. I’m not a dictator. I just believe in the power of inclusion.”
On transparency: “I’m the total opposite, probably, of my predecessors. I think visibility is so important for our hospital, as well as our community. There’s a good story to tell here. I’m not keeping it top secret, but I also want to hear from the community. We can always improve, and there’s such power from community collaborations.”
On her best Vineyard day: “Beach at 9 in the morning and not going home until 8 at night … This year, because I had the summer off, and I haven’t had a summer off since I was in college, I loved watching the fishing Derby. I was fascinated by that. So focused. You see what’s coming out of the water and think, ‘We swim over there.’”
On being stranded: “For all the years I’ve been coming here, we’ve never really had a problem except recently, you know, when we had that really windy day a couple of weekends ago. We had gone off-Island to run errands. Fortunately we have friends in Falmouth, and we were able to camp out. The winds were 50 to 60 mph, and that boat wasn’t going anywhere.”