Hospital anticipates coronavirus will come to the Island

Health officials are ‘hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.’

Martha's Vineyard Hospital CEO Denise Schepici took a salary cut, along with other executives, to help with financial losses. - MVT File photo by Gabrielle Mannino

Updated March 13

As the number of presumptive positive cases of coronavirus in Massachusetts surpasses one hundred, health officials at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (MVH) say they are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

President and CEO of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, Denise Schepici, told The Times during a conference call Friday that she “does anticipate a case” on the Island.

“To be totally transparent, I do anticipate a case. I don’t like to speculate on numbers, but given the amount of travelers that go back and forth to the Island, people are still not using common sense,” Schepici said.

According to Schepici, in order to halt the spread of infection, folks must take additional precautions to keep the Island population safe and healthy.

“We need the cooperation of everyone on the Island, because you don’t know if you have been exposed,” Schepici said.

As of now, health officials are recommending that anyone who is exhibiting symptoms, or has concerns that they may have been exposed, should contact their primary care provider and avoid calling the general line at the hospital.

Hospital spokesperson Katrina Delgadillo said the volume of calls to the nurse triage line has more than doubled since the start of the outbreak, and the front desk is getting overwhelmed with calls from concerned members of the public. 

Schepici suggested that the general public avoid calling the hospital to ask questions about the virus, and instead visit the Centers for Disease Control website or the hospital’s advisory page that contains up-to-date information.

“We are trying not to overwhelm the healthcare system with this,” Schepici said.

The hospital has been the focal point for the clinical reaction to this disease, and Schepici said officials are working hard to bring all the local health and community preparedness agencies together to coordinate prevention and mitigation efforts. 

“We were the ones who set up the first Islandwide communication meeting. Those continue to happen so we can all inform each other and work together with one voice,” Schepici said.

In a place where regional togetherness is not a popular topic, Schepici said it is essential for towns to collaborate and stay in constant communication.

“We are learning a lot from this, and I think it can be an opportunity to come together and work with each other on this issue,” Schepici said. “When it comes to emergency preparedness, we all want to be on the same page.”

When it comes to preliminary screening and testing for Coronavirus, chief nurse and chief operating officer at MVH, Claire Seguin, said that as of now, all testing and analysis of tests across the commonwealth is being handled by the Department of Health (DPH), however the hospital can collect samples for testing on-site. 

According to Delgadillo, If someone feels ill, they call their primary care physician. The physician or nurse performs screening over the phone with specific questions. If those questions result in the physician thinking that patient may be a good candidate to meet the State’s requirements for testing, the physician works with the state epidemiologist to determine next steps. If approved by the state, that patient may be tested at the hospital. They will then send the test kit with the patient’s samples to the state lab for processing.

Seguin reiterated Schepici’s point that anyone who is concerned they may have been exposed or are experiencing flu-like symptoms should contact their primary care provider as soon as possible.

Schepici said the availability of test kits across the country have been severely limited because they cannot be produced fast enough to meet the growing demand.

“The state is hoping to allow more testing as soon as more kits are available. It is not that our hospital is less prepared — this is an issue for all hospitals,” Schepici said.

According to Schepici, primary care providers can do an over-the-phone screening to assess symptoms of callers, and use an algorithm to decide, under their discretion, whether a person should be tested by the state.

Seguin said that, to her knowledge, no one on Martha’s Vineyard has been tested within the last 24 hours. 

The hospital is discouraging people from travelling for any reason, whether it be leisure or business. For folks returning from overseas, Seguin said the hospital looks at “level 3” countries that have the highest risk factor for infection, but as of now, neither the hospital nor other health agencies are requiring mandatory screening.

She said people coming back to the Island should exercise immense caution, and should follow the advisories of state health agencies.

“We count on people to do the right thing,” Seguin said.

Schepici said she has been in frequent communication with Jim Malkin and the Steamship Authority (SSA) regarding their preparedness. 

“We have had very good discussions with them, and we know they are well-informed and are on top of the situation,” Schepici said.

Currently, no mandatory protocol is being enforced by the SSA, but Schepici said that in conference calls, SSA and hospital officials have discussed the possibility of people wearing masks or staying in their cars for the duration of their trips. 

“This Island has a very unique situation, and as the situation continues to develop, we will be hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” Schepici said.

Updated to clarify comments by Claire Sequin. 



  1. The job of the hospital is to prepare for the worst. It’s our job to ensure the worst doesn’t happen.

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