We became an aging-friendly Island

My name is Esther. It’s 2030; I’m 80 years old — like lots of Vineyard residents these days — and I treasure living in this aging-friendly Island community because:

  • We’ve come a long way to get enough affordable housing — both rental and owning units — so my children and grandchildren can afford to live here, without working three jobs! There are many different models for the new housing — from expanded Island Elderly rental housing to shared multigenerational homes, to more affordable workforce housing. At the county airport, they got permission from the federal and state aeronautical agencies not only to expand the needed sewage, but also to empower the County and the Airport commissions to develop programs that send revenue back to the county and the towns. Working together, they also got the legislature to create a Housing Bank (financed like the Land Bank), and the improvement in available housing has been amazing.
  •  We have two new Green House–model assisted-living and nursing home complexes, but it’s not like any nursing home we knew before. These are all complexes with 12 to 15 residents, each with their own bedroom, with a shared, big, homey, living room and dining area, and the residents help decide on the food, and you can go into the kitchen with a staff person and make cookies or whatever else you want at any hour of the day or night. Even better, some of the units are particularly for residents with Alzheimer’s, but again — not like any nursing home used to be. In this one, family can visit any time they like, and residents can go to the new museum or the movies, or a concert or a restaurant, and artists from Featherstone come in to help you make your own art, and musicians come and play everything from Bach to boogie. That’s where I plan to go when I decide I don’t want to stay in my own home anymore, and just want to be waited on! 
  •  The four Councils on Aging still exist in their own towns, but they are closely connected and collaborate on programs. Together they provide lunch any day of the week, and you can sign up for any activity at any of the four COAs right from your own home computer using their key program, and if you need transportation to or from one of those programs — or really, any library or activity for seniors, you just tell the COA and a volunteer will come pick you up and then take you home. One of the things I like best is that kids from the high school also work with the COAs, and keep us elders up-to-date on all the home technology we use for everything from healthcare to making our own videos for MVTV, and they also keep our robots in working order! 
  •  The M/V. Hospital and Community Services and the town and visiting nurses all work together in a new system of health and support services, which makes it possible for me to continue to live at home; they know that even though I’m getting frailer, I want to do what I can every day, and it’s not all or nothing. I can record all my health information, send it, and even talk on the computer with my doctor; she can “prescribe” activities or even special diets, and the nurses, social workers, aides, and homemakers visit and keep me safe. They even prescribed some grab bars and ramps to make it easier for me to move around, and recommended I get a helpful robot, and some of those kids from the high school came and installed them the next week. Best of all, now there is Medicare for all ages, so I don’t worry about my grandkids driving their self-driving cars with no health coverage! 
  •  We have an Island-wide, on-demand transportation system, so though I don’t drive much anymore, I can still go out with the NeighborStarlight Lift without all sorts of eligibility requirements — just tell the COAs where I need to go and when, and they set it up. The Lift is an old idea updated, this one financed by collaboration among the towns, the county, and the VTA, with some help from the state, and reduces the isolation of living down our up-Island long dirt roads. 

Most of my off-Island friends want to retire here, and now I can welcome them. 

Paddy and Ben Moore moved to the Island in 1974, with the whole Worlock-Moore brood; she swears she got her initial training as a mediator while raising those six boys. She’s held leadership positions in Massachusetts state government; mediated health care disputes at the national policy level and between hospitals and nurses’ unions; taught mediation and negotiation at Quinnipiac Law School and other universities; and co-founded and been chair of Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard since 2013. She rejoices that the Vineyard is taking real steps to make this dream a reality in the new decade.