Partners Healthcare, the parent company of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, asked Gov. Baker to consider whether a ban on travel to both Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket should be considered.
The Partners request is highlighted in a letter sent by state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, and state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, to Gov. Charlie Baker and MaryLou Sudders, secretary of health and human services, on Saturday, calling on them to assist the two islands, pointing out the lack of resources the Island hospitals have.
“Each hospital has very limited beds, fewer ventilators, and only several days supply of PPE; healthcare personnel are inherently limited, given their geographic isolation,” the letter states. “Contributing to the challenges facing island hospitals are the large number of individuals of all ages who have traveled to each island to ‘ride out the virus.’ We have discussed this phenomenon with leaders on both Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard; they estimate that the influx may have doubled the size of the normal off-season population on the respective islands. Our understanding is most people who have come to the islands are those who own a summer home, and hopefully are practicing social distancing. However, the isolation of both islands, the limited healthcare resources, and the influx of population obviously make Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket an urgent and potentially dire concern.”
Partners officials also asked for National Guard resources to help protect hospital staff. “With the mobilization of the National Guard, we strongly request your consideration of deployment of personnel to each island. The CEOs of both hospitals are worried about the safety of their staff and the need for additional assistance with triage in the event of a surge in hospitalizations. Both Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have limited police and public safety resources, particularly during the off-season. If moderate or worse projections come to pass on either island, an unmanageable surge will occur.”
On Sunday, the Steamship Authority released statistics that show more activity. According to the data, compared with the first 15 days of March last year, there have been 264 additional vehicle trips to the Island with Massachusetts addresses and 102 additional vehicle trips by customers with New York or New Jersey addresses. Customers from other New England states, besides Massachusetts, were down 21.
Baker, during a briefing on Sunday, referenced the concerns on the islands: “We have talked to people on both Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard who say that a lot of people who have second homes there have been going there. We would prefer they not do that, and that they would stay on the mainland and don’t create additional issues for both of those islands at this point in time; they don’t have the same level of service capacity that they typically have in the summer. We continue to work on the strategies that we have with respect to social distancing, and we’re going to continue to adjust those as we see fit.”
The letter came a day after a joint statement was released late Friday by Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and Nantucket Cottage Hospital, in which the institutions urged people considering trips to the islands to stay home, off-Island.
“Consider the limitations of our critical-access hospitals during this unprecedented time of pandemic,” the statement read. “For your safety, and to save lives, we strongly advise you to STAY AT HOME. The perception that the Islands are a safe haven is not realistic given the limited number of personnel, critical supplies, and beds. Our system will not be able to handle the large number of infected patients from rapid community spread, which is expected.“For your safety, and to ensure the safety of our medical personnel on the front line,” the hospitals requested the following:
- We are asking you to stay at home.
- For those Island residents, only travel for the absolute necessities, such as food or prescriptions.
- If you come to the Island, you will only strain our limited resources, putting your life and others at risk.
- If you have a summer home here, we are asking you to stay at your home residence [off-Island]. We have limited bed capacity, at 25 at MVH and 14 at NCH, and that is already strained.
- We have limited medical resources here on the Island, and they are dwindling rapidly.
- We will not have enough staff to care for you or your loved ones.
- Our hospitals are virtually locked down to prevent the flow of people through the facility.
- We must act now to prevent any further spread.
The statement was signed by Martha’s Vineyard Hospital president and CEO Denise Schepici, and Gary Shaw, president and CEO of Nantucket Cottage Hospital, and has also been posted on the Steamship Authority website.
Asked on Saturday to comment on the statement, Shepici stressed, “The hospital has finite and limited resources.” She went on to say, “We are telling you to stay away in order to save lives.”
Along with the 25 beds mentioned in the statement, Martha’s Vineyard has just a three-bed intensive care unit, according to its website. The hospital’s parent company is Partners Healthcare, and patients whose critical needs can’t be met at MVH are routinely airlifted to Massachusetts General Hospital.
The Fernandes and Cyr letter points out how an influx of people could turn into a crisis. “Martha’s Vineyard Hospital CEO Denise Schepici, Nantucket Cottage Hospital CEO Gary Shaw, and MGH President Peter Slavin all expect a significant crisis on the islands in the coming days and weeks,” the letter states. “We already know that the first confirmed COVID-19 patient in Dukes County interacted with dozens of people at multiple locations across Martha’s Vineyard in the past week before their diagnosis.”
There is one confirmed case in Tisbury and on Sunday the number of cases in Massachusetts climbed to 646, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health website.
County issues situational update
In a statement issued by the Martha’s Vineyard boards of health, Island emergency managers, police and fire departments, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, M.V. Community Services, and Vineyard emergency preparedness teams, Vineyard residents were urged to “get serious about social distancing.”
“It’s confusing to understand what this means, so this might help,” the statement went on. “Refrain from dinner parties, playdates for your children, sleepovers, and more. Make outings to the grocery store and pharmacy as quick as possible, at off-peak hours, and be sure to wash your hands when you arrive home. Use the phone to call, text, Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, or other means for communication. Take your kids on a trail, to the beach, or out in the backyard to enjoy fresh air and nature, but for now, keep it a family-only thing. Get creative on ways to be social while distancing yourself.”
The Island boards of health are monitoring the spread of COVID-19, and are working closely with state, county, and local government, along with M.V. Hospital and local emergency managers, to act as a coordinated “coronavirus response team,” according to the release. The team meets daily via conference calls, emails, and Zoom meetings to “discuss protocols, stay informed, and to proactively educate the community.”
The release stresses the following:
Wash your hands for 60 seconds to help avoid the spread of germs.
The New England Journal of Medicine states that COVID-19 can survive:
- 72 hours on hard surfaces like plastic and steel
- 24 hours on cardboard
- 30 minutes in the air (before landing on surface)
If you feel you need to go to the hospital, call first; the M.V. Hospital phone screening service is at 508-684-4500, available Monday-Friday, 8 am to 7 pm. Outside these hours, on-call providers can guide callers.
For a mental health emergency, call M.V. Community Services Emergency Services at 508-693-0032. Qualified behavioral health practitioners can be accessed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Visit their site for more information.