When Denise Schepici walks through the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, it can take her awhile to get from one place to the next. Not because of long corridors or stops to admire the walls adorned with art, but because she likes to greet and chat with people she meets along the way. Schepici is all smiles when she sees employees, patients, and visitors.
A year into her job as CEO and president of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, Shepici feels she has settled in nicely.
The Island lifestyle was a welcome change for Schepici, who used to work at MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham, and shuttled between an apartment in Natick and the Island. “I just love the fact that I can be in one place … be serving a mission that is strongly needed for the Island. I take the job very seriously, and I take a lot of pride in being able to take care of this community. It’s a privilege, really. I would say I’m in harmony,” she said.
Schepici began her job after the previous CEO, Joe Woodin, was fired after a little more than a year on the job. After listening and learning, Schepici has begun to move the hospital from the past and toward the future.
The hospital is working with its affiliate, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), on a multiple-phase strategic plan to address issues and provide better care for the Island.
The first phase is clinical optimization. The hospital began looking at its many services, such as cardiovascular care and cancer care, in December, and is working to determine how patients can receive better care. “What more can we do to prevent patients from having to leave the Island to get basic services?” Schepici said.
Once the hospital determines which services to expand and how many doctors they need in those departments, they can begin working on a facilities plan. Schepici said that space is limited at the hospital, and toward the end of the summer, the hospital will look at ways to expand office space, parking, and other facilities.
One of the most important goals for the hospital in 2019 is the triannual community needs assessment. The hospital is a not-for-profit, which requires it to complete a community needs assessment every three years; the last was completed in 2016. The assessment addresses all health aspects of the community, from the Island’s growing elderly population to food insecurity.
Schepici has spoken with Island Health Care CEO Cynthia Mitchell about the proposed healthcare collaborative in Tisbury, which would bring together Island organizations to create a needs assessment for the Island’s public health services and measure the performance of those services. Since Mitchell wants to develop a needs assessment, Schepici said the two “were much stronger together than apart,” and plan to work together.
While things are looking up for the hospital, there are certainly challenges ahead.
One of those challenges is Windemere, the hospital’s nursing and rehabilitation center. Schepici reiterated her commitment to Windemere, saying the facility will remain open until an alternative is found, despite the facility being a financial issue for the hospital. “There is just no way we’re going to overcome the economics of [Windemere], because of the Medicaid reimbursements. The state just isn’t funding more … so the hospital’s supporting that, so that’s very challenging for us,” Schepici said.
The hospital has submitted requests for proposals to look at alternatives for Windemere. In particular, the hospital is talking with Navigator Elder Homes to look at green house homes, modern long-term-care homes that improve elderly satisfaction through individualized care.
The hospital owns a piece of land on Breakdown Lane in Tisbury, which they are considering using to build a new nursing home. The title on the land still needs to be cleared, but Schepici said it is one of the many options the hospital is looking at as it considers a new nursing home.
“I don’t think anybody is approving nursing homes unless they are doing something like the green house model. Nobody would ever build a facility like they did 30 years ago when they built Windemere. It’s just not what you would build today,” Schepici said.
The hospital is moving along with plans to utilize vacant space inside Windemere to house its growing primary care staff.
Transparency has been another major issue for the hospital in recent years — an issue not lost on Schepici, and one she has spent time addressing in her first year.
“The hospital was pretty closed down,” she said. “I think we have opened the doors appropriately. My door is open all the time.”
With the addition of communications director Katrina Delgadillo and the use of public forums, the hospital has worked to inform the public on its plans.
The hospital is also a member of Partners HealthCare, Massachusetts’ largest network of doctors and hospitals, which is in a transition period after CEO David Torchiana stepped down from the position in January, but Schepici said patients should not worry, as the transition is unlikely to affect the day-to-day operations at the hospital.
Looking back and planning ahead
Looking back on her first year at the helm of the hospital, Schepici said she’s been most surprised at how long it takes to get projects done on the Island, learning it’s all part of the process. “There isn’t a lack of public interest,” Schepici said. “People care about their hospital … Everybody wants to be involved, and you have to take that time and understand that’s part of the job.”
Schepici said fiscal responsibility and primary care have been among her biggest accomplishments in her first year. “I heard loud and clear from the community that they needed primary care, and we were able to attract and hire four physicians,” she said. Three of the physicians started in September, and one will start next month.
There is also no longer a waitlist for primary care doctors. Schepici worked to streamline the process by creating an application process that matches patients with a primary care doctor.
While the hospital does and will continue to play a critical role in addressing the substance-use issues on Island, Schepici said she wants to be more involved in prevention. Schepici wants to get ahead of the issue, and have more providers at the hospital readily available to treat patients who may be in detox or going through withdrawal.
Looking ahead, Schepici and the hospital are focused on completing the community needs assessment, finishing renovations to Windemere, and focusing on the well-being of the hospital’s many employees and patients.
“I think it’s just keeping steady pressure on all the things [I’ve] started,” Schepici said of her future plans. “Continuing to engage in dialogue with the community. Continuing to engage with my employees, and making sure they believe and know my door is really open.”