Partners to governor: Islands need help

Pleas made for travel ban, National Guard as hospital CEOs say ‘stay away.’

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The SSA has posted a statement on its website asking visitors and seasonal residents to stay away . — File photo by Carl Treyz

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.

48 COMMENTS

    • So maybe the “Tisbury resident” and their family/associates should be asked to leave the island?

      • Certs you are “the primary driving force which keeps this lovely island’s economy running”? The arrogance of that statement is stunning. This is simple. You belong at home. That is the address on your drivers license. Leave the island to the teachers and nurses and builders and plumbers and electricians and store clerks and all the other people that keep the economy running the other ten months of the year that you usually let your house sit empty.

  1. Let the games begin. Now things have gotten ugly. We, who are fortunate enough to be able to have a second home here, are the primary driving force which keeps this lovely island’s economy running. Full time residents LOVE our real estate tax revenue, especially because we barely use any of the services they pay for. We don’t need to explain to you or anyone else why we bought our home here, but as we have it, and pay for it (without a homestead exemption I might add), it is unfathomable that some would tell us to stay away. If we feel that this is the best place for ourselves at this moment, that is our right. Or have rights been suspended for all but the select group? If anyone has such a high level of concern about lack of adequate health care capacity that they feel entitled to tell us we have a legal, moral or ethical duty to not use and enjoy a home we pay dearly for, I suggest those people temporarily relocate off island and stay with a relative or friend.

    • One of the most unnecessary and entitled comments I’ve read online. And that’s saying something. There was no ugliness in the hospital’s message. Just math. They’re trying to protect the safety of locals, as well as their own staff and anyone who may be considering coming here. Islanders shouldn’t be going off-Island unless necessary, and no one should be coming over unless they have to. The same goes for every town in America. That’s why we’ve been told to stay home. That’s why everything is closed. It’s a plan to minimize damage. Keeping the infection and fatality rate down is more important than your taxes. Look at what is happening in Italy. Yes, we have a moral obligation to isolate and stop traveling as much as humanly possible right now. All of us.

      • Agreed, we have a moral obligation to not travel, and as I have been here for 9 days, why should anyone advocate that I leave the island just because this is not my primary residence? And we agree, if you don’t have a home here you should not be coming here. And you’re quite correct, this isn’t about money. But there is no entitlement here, just the most basic rights of property ownership that have prevailed since before we were a a British colony. Year rounders have no greater rights to be here than part timers. No one should be expected to plan for this event but if the hospital only planned enough capacity for year round residents, that seems now to have been short sighted. They should indeed be scrambling to come up with ways to increase capacity, and I suspect they are.

        • Take your money and leave,then, we have our own summer economy without you, and most of the money in the summer goes to people who come to work here or owners of businesses who also don’t live here — stop patting yourself on the back. If you don’t have enough chutzpah to grow a pair and identify yourself by name, you may as well just be yet one more selfish hog who uses up our resources and complains. You want us to build a bigger hospital for the two weeks you are here a year? Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. If you get sick, I hope you don’t suffer, but if you do – you made your own bed, not Martha’s Vineyard.

        • Dear certs, (to steal a scene from Monty Python) when the cart is rolling through Tisbury with the bell-ringer tolling ‘bring out your dead,’ don’t be the guy complaining that there aren’t enough carts, be the guy pushing the cart. All will be forgiven. You’ll be an islander. And hopefully die happy.

    • Certs. This is absolutely not about the money that you contribute to the island. However the mere fact that you brought that up, shows that you do not grasp the severity of the situation. It’s about what the hospital is able to handle and still keep people healthy and ALIVE . Did you miss the fact that China had to erect a hospital in days to attempt to keep up with the people that were ill? Have you missed that Italy, who is unable to do such a thing, has lost almost 5 thousand people to this virus? I’m in healthcare on the cape and work every day with immune comprised people as well as people who come in showing symptoms of the virus. I’m starting to see people come to those second homes, people who are absolutely putting a strain on our healthcare system. How is it a strain? When you live in one area 9/10+ months out of the year, that area counts you as a full time resident and typically there is more resources available the higher the population. Think of Boston, they have many hospitals, the cape has two. Why? Because of the year round population. When people flock suddenly to an area that they are not a full time resident, of it puts a strain on the system. It’s simple math. This is going to be absolutely catastrophic if people don’t use common sense. So yes Certs, as a matter of human decency people should be staying at their full time residents and not traveling all over the country. Don’t forget that as people travel so does the virus.

    • At this time of great stress we are all challenged to do the “right thing”. I too have a second home on the Vineyard. The Vineyard which is my first home, born and raised. The Vineyard where my folks, 86 and 90 yrs old, still live and where my Dad was born and raised. I need to manage how they are doing from afar. I cannot go and be with them, since it’s possible that I could endanger them and others on the Vineyard. We are told to ‘stay home’ by our federal, state and local government. We are told to ‘stay home’ by our health officials and health care professionals. I’m going to stay home, but I will stay connected with family and friends. A big shout out to the health care workers on the ground caring for our seniors! You are our hidden heroes in this pandemic. Thank you for all you do!!

    • This is about the most ignorant comment that I have ever seen. Shame on you. Have you been to the grocery store? Have you seen how it’s been wiped out? You need to stay put in your primary residence where you have more than one hospital. Have you spoke to hospital staff? Of course you haven’t. I have. I have been supporting this community for years now. Our Hospital is on lockdown, you are not getting in. What part of “3 ventilators and 25 beds” don’t you understand? If those ventilators are all in use, your millions won’t be buying you one. I don’t care how many tax dollars you pay to the town you own property in. It is selfish and downright disgusting that you think this is the place to be in a pandemic and you feel as though you have some right to come and overload our already taxed system. Maybe for once you need to think about others and their well being and not just your greedy self.

      • The stores are wiped out everywhere, they will restock. Maybe shomeone should be talking about getting more ventilators….

    • You may have second thoughts if you come down with the virus, and are sick enough to make it to MV hospital, and find there is no room for you as the ICU/ventilators are all being used – just as the hospital CEO has warned.

    • Not only is this view selfish, it is ignorant, not only are you putting everyone who lives here at risk you are also putting yourself at risk. You are putting your safety on the line by traveling here, and by being on the island where resources are extremely limited. So since you obviously don’t value the safety of others at least be smart by staying home and protecting yourself, at your actual home.

  2. People who own homes have a right to use them like anyone else. Maybe the hospital should get more supplies and staff instead of imposing their unconstitutional requests on others.

    • This is funny, oaksbluff. It’s taken me 2 days to get it due principally to the physical separation between your comment and celsmo’s. Well, that and all the vitriol.

  3. The bigger problem is going to be the residents that go back and forth to get things, etc. I’ll bet the Bourne Market Basket is seeing plenty of Islanders.

  4. It isn’t about who pays taxes, it isn’t about who lives here year round, or even if you are privileged enough to own second homes. It comes down to the fact that our hospital is essentially a MASH unit and only capable of handling a limited amount of ‘casualties’. There is no reason to put yourself or others in danger. The Vineyard is a closed society which will unfortunately allow for disease to run rampant and very quickly over run our limited services. Norway ordered its citizens to not flee to their vacation homes for the same reason. Everyone needs to take a deep breath (at least six feet apart of course) and be thankful if you do have a primary residence in an area which will be able to assist you should you become ill, and that is not here on the island of Doctor Moroux.

  5. Oh, the irony, the irony! We who’ve lived here for any length of time have probably all benefited, directly or indirectly, from the island’s reputation as a “resort” — you know, where vacationers can get away from it all because the island is so wonderful, yadda yadda yadda — but when those with 2nd homes actually want to “resort” to coming here, people want to hit the off switch stat. For all its obnoxious tone, Certs’s post above makes a good point: “Full time residents LOVE our real estate tax revenue, especially because we barely use any of the services they pay for.” This is true, and I’ve been chided and even trashed *by other longtime year-rounders* for pointing out that this is not an unmitigated good, like people with off-island incomes bidding up the price of land is a significant factor in our long-running affordable housing crisis.

    Wouldn’t it be amazing if we took the housing crisis, the opioid epidemic, and the lack of access to affordable health care (etc.) as seriously as we’re taking COVID-19 and could act half as decisively to end them? If the towns could end their endless squabbles and turf battles and act for the common good?

  6. As a physician, what should have been said is, “If your home here is the safest place for you, come home. But, treat your return as you would and should anywhere you travel now. Self quarantine for 14 days so as not to spread the virus inadvertently. Follow the advice given to all of us. Wash your hands with soap and water, practicer social distancing when going out ANYWHERE, and stay home as much as possible. Enjoying the outdoors is a way to deal with this very difficult time, but do not do it in a group. And, take care of each other. Be KIND

    • Totally agree with this comment. Look at Hawaii, they are asking anyone traveling to the islands (resident or non-resident) to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Sounds like a solution for MV and Nantucket to me.

  7. Totally missing the point, no common sense at all with these part timers, maybe re-read the article. If you get sick don’t finger point to our community because you traveled to a remote island without facilities. I’ve seen first hand stupidity and lack of social distancing all week at my job, that I am required to be at and every single time. It was a seasonal from you name it someplace else. Easter is coming and we will be inundated with more, and I have 3 pre-exisitng conditions.Nantucket is now mandatory stay in place. We should be too. It’s not fantasy island
    This is the worse place to come to. When 1 gets a common cold in the winter 98 percent of us do. Its about staying safe and Alive.

  8. I’m one of those part-time residents. I understand the hospital’s position and gotta say, I have to side with them that we all have an obligation to support the local residents who are there 24X7. These folks keep the community viable for the summer residents. Just think, if this virus should spread dramatically, it will be of great human cost to the residents–and BTW, your summer will be toast without many of the local businesses around to support summer activities. We need to bolster policies that enforce containment. Locals and part-time residents need to do what is needed for the entire whole of the community. Sacrifices on all sides need to happen. Yea I love my house there, and if I am not at all sick, I could be there. But if there is a chance that my arrival spreads things or taxes the locals, I can hang off Island for a bit. Please consider everyone and understand that the folks there are just trying to be as rational as they can with some very unusual and difficult circumstances. This is a small community. Let’s all row the boat in one direction.

    • Thank you for being compassionate and practical, eggatown. I wish everyone could see it from your perspective. Our focus shouldn’t be on personal preference or our own enjoyment in times of crisis. And yes, if seasonal residents are looking forward to a typical summer, we have to be strict now, keep our community healthy. MV doesn’t run itself.

  9. The issue is settled, folks. The most informed people involved in the debate (the hospital admin) have stated that people shouldn’t come here. End of story. Both sides can drop the extremes- the “We support your community with our money” sniffing and the “Keep ‘Em Out!” pitchfork wavers. Simmer down, everyone.

      • Permit me to elucidate. The heads of the Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Hospitals have stated publicly that people should not come to the island. Ditto for our state representative and our governor. If you feel you are more informed than these people, please honor us by taking a position of leadership and guiding us through this crisis. Otherwise, the issue is settled.

  10. I try to be as inclusive and kind as possible but as as a mother of a child with a compromised immune system, I am ill at the thought of my local health care professional having to decide if he gets the ventilator. This situation isn’t fair to any of us (to say the least) but at least if people stay in their hometowns, the odds are more equally divided.
    Either way, I think this announcement is all about 3 weeks too late.
    Stay well and please shelter in place as much as possible, everyone!!

  11. Under ordinary circumstances, of course second, third, and fourth homeowners would be welcome here. Of course we depend on your contributions to our tourist economy. You are missing the point. This deadly virus has a lot of people frightened and running for cover here in a short sighted panic. Let’s stay calm and stop the flow of people going on and off ferries, with certain exceptions, and flying in and out of the airport. Everyone must go to their primary home and stay there until this crisis subsides. Just knowing that there are only three respirators and low ppe supplies for the hospital staff should be enough to deter anyone. If I had a home in a bigger community with greater hospital capacity I would consider going there. This is not about rights or taxes. It’s about being safe. It is not safe to be here on the island right now.

  12. As a vacation Island home owner, i very much understand the concern and fear of overloading the hospital. But if we home owners want to spend time at our island homes, I don’t think that we should be prevented from doing so. We can always go back off island if needed as long as the ferries keep running. If year-round residents want to limit resources for vacation home owners, then taxes should be adjusted so that year-rounders pay more…. seems only fair.

    • Sir, with all due respect, what you think has been rendered moot by the declarations by the leadership of the hospital, our state representative, and our governor, all of whom have a simple and direct message- STAY HOME. Unless you claim to have greater knowledge and expertise than these individuals, please be quiet. If you do have greater knowledge than them, please assume a leadership position to resolve the crisis.

    • Again, it is not safe for you to be here right now. You can try to changes the subject, but the fact remains you are putting yourself, and the rest of the community, at risk. Think about it- three respirators for 25,000 people!

    • I live close enough to the hospital to hear medflight come and go. In the summer we hear it often enough to know that our hospital can’t handle the severity and or volume of injuries/sickness of our summer population. I’ve heard as many as 5 in one day! The winter is surprisingly busy as well. We have a very limited number of supplies and staff. As amazing as they are they just can‘t handle what is presented to them. The point trying to be made here has nothing to do with what your money brings to our economy, it has everything to do with their inability to handle a large outbreak of this virus. Please use some common sense and stay where you have the resources that can in most cases give you a better chance of survival. Thanks in advance for your anticipated cooperation.

  13. I would just ask the second home owners if they would normally be here in March? If not you don’t need to be here now. Give us a chance to avoid the worst case scenario and get the island up an running as soon as possible for you.

  14. Trumps plan is 15 days. We are in day 7. By the end of next week we will have mail in tests. You test negative you can go to work. Plus testing on the drugs that are supposed to help starts teusday in NYC. I cant wait to get the test.

    • I’ll believe it when I see it. Remember a few weeks back when the president also said the cases would go from 15 in Washington State to zero within a week or two- they’re now at 30,000 detected, which is just a fraction of the real number due to lack of testing.

    • There is no doubt that getting tests out to the general public will be great but I think we should be prepared to wait a bit longer than 15 days for them to be widely distributed. It will be interesting to see whether the effects of social quarantining work in the coming weeks since it has a delayed effect.

      • Unless you’re rich and famous and have connections, you cannot get a test except under specific conditions. Testing everyone has been proven to effectively slow the spread in other countries. It won’t happen here because we have an idiot running the show, who, at the beginning couldn’t grasp reality, and in the end, is now responsible for every Trumpvirus death and lost income in this country due to the virus. Not only is Trump the worst, stupidest, most damaging President we’ve ever had, I also consider him a murderer, as he continues to lie at every daily presser, refusing to use the military to help those most in need for hospital beds and ventilators and not ordering the making of protective equipment for healthcare workers. States, particularly the hotspots, are on their own.

  15. Breathe breathe breathe….I too am a physician and part-time resident for over 20 years. I’m on-island 40% of the time. I consider the Vineyard my home. i have a mailbox here. Quaranteening in place here is the safest option for my family given our personal health considerations. I am 100% sensitive to the limited resources here on MV. I brought a month of personal supplies and food items over with me so as to not overload the local resources.. Please let’s not lump all part-timers together here. I agree that if the island is your occasional vacation spot, than sheltering off-island is the sensitive choice. But let’s not vilify all with one brush-stroke. Maybe we can put the angst and energy into something more positive , ie. part-time docs and healthcare workers working at clinics or MV hospital; food-delivery, safe=transport for those in need…just a plea…

  16. Governor Baker has stated DO NOT GO TO MV OR NANTUCKET if you own a second home at either Island. PERIOD END OF STORY/EXCUSES. Nantucket is stay in place at home as is P-town. Its those who don’t listen putting us all in harms way. Just stop, we care about safety NOT TAXES. Hope we shut down next. The boats stop running.

  17. Politics and personal opinions aside. Chief Rose was one of the people in charge of emergency management before his departure from Oak Bluffs. Not only that, but he has years of experience and is one of the only people who knows the transport business and how things should be set up at a time like this. Things could get very difficult for the ambulance if they are called upon to transfer a lot of sick people to off island hospitals etc etc. Oak Bluffs is such an essential piece of our safety on this island as they are the service that does the off island transports. After losing their Chief and their Deputy, before entering into this pandemic, I am definitely nervous for the state of the department. I am sure the people in charge are burnt out and could use the help and expertise of someone who helped put plans like this in place, trained and has a extensive knowledge of these things. For the safety of our loved ones and community I hope the selectmen will consider this, the safety of our community at a time like this is what matters most.

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