Hospital CEO: Lifting work moratorium a ‘dire mistake’

Martha's Vineyard Hospital CEO Denise Schepici, shown here at at a 2018 forum, is asking towns to hit the pause button on lifting a construction ban. — Gabrielle Mannino

Updated 8 pm

In an email to the Vineyard’s town administrators Tuesday, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital CEO Denise Schepici indicated she was fearful of the Island-wide construction moratorium being lifted prematurely. 

“I am so incredibly concerned about the desire to lift the construction ban and I’d appreciate being heard as I think we are making a dire mistake even if only for two person jobs,” she wrote. “It’s like opening Pandora’s box.”

Schepici went on to write that she hopes further guidance from the commonwealth will come next week. 

On the strength of her position, Chilmark selectmen and the Chilmark board of health each voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon not to take any action on lifting restrictions in Chilmark. Instead the boards continued their deliberation on the subject until 5pm Thursday. 

Island towns have instituted a ban on all construction, with the exception of emergencies, through April 21.

A working group made up of building commissioners, health officials, and tradespeople from across the Island has been working on draft guidelines aimed at phasing in construction workers.

During the Tisbury board of selectmen meeting Tuesday afternoon, health agent Maura Valley told the board that earlier in the day the board of health approved phase 1 of the guidelines to let small crews go back to work. Valley called it a “thoughtful, measured approach.”

Valley said it would only allow one or two-person crews and there would be safety measures in place. “My concern is if we don’t start looking at ways to safely get them back to work, they’re just going to go back to work anyway,” she said.

Ross Seavey, the town’s building commissioner, said he has caught some one and two-person crews out working. “That’s what we’re seeing and right now. The toughest thing, which I think we’ve expressed, is at some point we’re even going to lose traction on the enforcement because I hear everyday from people that they know of other people who are out working in other towns. But Tisbury is keeping a really tight lid on it and they can’t work here and that feels really unfair to people. There’s only so long that can go on before we have a mutiny.”

After a half-hour discussion, the board of selectmen held off taking a vote until they have a chance to hear from Schepici in more detail about her concerns.

In Oak Bluffs, selectmen voiced their opposition to the draft guidelines that seek to allow small crews.

Selectman Gail Barmakian took objection to the draft guidelines, saying the guidelines were ambiguous and had a lack of enforceability.

“On the whole I don’t think I can vote on this. I’d like to vote for something. There’s too much in here that doesn’t seem appropriate,” she said.

Selectman Brian Packish agreed.

“I wouldn’t be willing to support the guidelines as presented,” Packish said.

But Packish said it was a board of health order and could be put into place without selectmen support.

Brian Dowd and George Brennan contributed to this report. Updated to include both Tisbury and Oak Bluffs.


  1. How about we start with one person being allowed to work on a job site ?
    One person crews are pretty common around here– especially for care takers and the like. painters often work alone, as do landscapers — if that’s not the usual routine, it can change.
    I currently have a kitchen renovation project in Edgartown. The homeowner lives off island, and no one has been in the house for 17 days. I could easily spend 16 working hours there before I needed another person. I have heard many stories about people in similar situations. The problem is, that if the stop work order it too tight, when it is lifted, there will be a rush to get things done, everyone will want to go back to work, and we will have overcrowding on job sites, regardless of the rules. And how can that be enforced? We need to relieve some of the financial pressure.
    Allowing a single person to work could help to “flatten the financial curve” of the workforce.
    If I could have one person crews, I could keep my employees employed a little bit, so they don’t starve.
    The work load could be passed around now, alleviating some future pressure.
    I advocate for allowing one person at a time on a site now.
    I would like to hear a rational argument as to why one person working alone is a problem .

    • Don- common sense says Yes- single person crews are fine. It’s hard to see the harm in a single person in an empty house when the owner is off island. That’s social isolation at its most pure. Perhaps the problem is in the leap of faith it requires that enough people will exercise common sense for it to work. The shutdown of construction sites is meant to prevent cheek-to-jowl close contact among workers. Having an honor system of one person at a time is a tough sell. Take a look at the number of people at Cronigs who can’t/won’t follow the directional signs in the aisles to prevent close contact among customers and then try to extrapolate that level of compliance to the construction industry. Sadly, it looks like an all-or-nothing strategy from the towns and hospitals will be in effect for a while.

      • Thanks for posting this. I’m glad he didn’t die, too. I wonder if there was any contact tracing and how many people he works with with were exposed? Some covid-19 positive people are silent carriers, which is why loosening work bans without any way to test everyone for the virus and for antibodies for the bodies will result in more cases. It’s very simple. One infected but asymptomatic person working alone in an empty house is still spreading disease if someone comes alone into the empty house a day or two later to do some work. The virus hangs around on metal, paper, plastic and cardboard. It’s a tough one, but I suppose these single worker jobs are where to start to get back to work. The problem is, I certainly don’t trust the majority of tradespeople to be conscientious, since there are some who say they are going to work anyway, despite any bans, even threatening to hang out in supermarkets and pharmacies until they can.

    • I think the the way to approach this is to just let all the islanders make their own decisions.
      It is the American way.
      Rugged Individualism.

    • Above, I meant I agree to allow 1-person or 2-person work crews.

      You know how we help support local restaurants by buying take out? I’d like to do the same for a contractor, handyman, electrician.

      I’m catching up on projects & would hire folks to help w/basement improvements & other tasks.

    • The one person crew is a myth, so much of construction requires at least four hands on at least two bodies.
      One person still needs.
      One person still has to get his supplies from another person.

  2. The hospital CEO has a very exorbitant salary and earns every dime of it but try to remember that the coronavirus has not cost her a dime and she will probably see a deserved raise after her handling of this. She may be singing a different tune if she were in a position where money was an issue or if she walked a
    1 / 4 mile in the shoes of any trades people. Just a thought.

    • How do you know the pandemic has not cost her a dime? At a non-profit hospital, money is alwys an issue. As for her, personally, you might ask her before you assume how smooth her road has been.

  3. dondon i agree with you, if the order is held for too long people will go back to work without any guidance. 1 person crew sound like a reasonable option.

  4. Dondondon12, the argument is that if you give most people an inch, they’ll take a mile. I completely understand the need to get back to work. We all have mortgages/rent/bills to pay. A healthy robust economy is just as important as the physical health of ourselves. This entire ordeal has been an extremely delicate balancing act that we’re all trying to navigate daily. When is it safe to go back to ‘normal’ and resume our lives? The problem is that if one person is allowed on a job site, you KNOW that people will push the envelope…. there will be 2,3 or even more people working together even if they aren’t ‘allowed’ to. Plus, allowing construction, even with a one man crew, will increase traffic from tradesman coming from off island. It will be a mistake to prematurely lift the construction ban. But this is just my opinion. I’m not qualified to make that decision and I seriously doubt any of us here commenting on this are. Leave it up to the people that ARE qualified.

  5. The hospital has had plenty of time to prepare for any uptick in covid-19 patients. We can’t wait until the virus has been completely eliminated. Businesses must slowly be allowed to get back to business. Life is dangerous.

    • Life is expensive. I have customers who want their lawns and meadows cut before they get here. I work alone and I see no reason why I should not be able to go cut a yard.

    • Her concern is not the hospitals preparation for the virus.
      Her concern is even more dead Islanders.
      Do you share her concerns?
      Death is dangerous.
      To life.

    • Just what I need. Some “rugged individualist” giving me Covid 19 because he couldn’t be bothered taking proper precautions.If you are truly a rugged individualist take the Christopher Mccandless route and be true to your ideals.

  6. islandgirlstacey While i agree with you in most everything here is where i disagree, the qualified people that will make the decisions live in a different reality!!
    Families are struggling right now and a slow process to “ reopen “ is better than a unsuccessful one.
    But i agree with you better be safe, just cant see a problem on a 1 man crew!!
    Guidelines should be placed, fines for not following up!! scary times!! Be safe out there!

  7. There is no virus here if no one else comes here!!
    Limit the boats and airport not who is currently here !!!
    12 cases, no one in hospital, 6 days no new confirmed.
    Does not change any mathematical odds of contracting or spreading if it simply does not exist

    No money from no work = not paying rent, mortgage, bills, etc…..

  8. It is awful easy to sit high on your horse and decree who will and who will not feed their families.
    All you fools that think to restrict the boat travel will somehow stop all of this. The people that travel to work on the island are not going to come back in the numbers you are afraid of and predict.
    If the island ban should be lifted with provisions. People need to get back to work. If you have the ability to stay home and get paid, good for you. If you are too afraid to go to work, go outside or even go to the store, STAY HOME. Do not restrict others. The economy will make a rebound, we just need to start the process working. We can’t have the few naysayers of doom ruin it for the rest of us. We have not had the run of patients at the hospital everyone predicted. Thank God. Any chance of a summer season at all depends on this moving forward.

    • “A few naysayers of doom” is a willingly ignorant description of experts in science, epidemiology, and medicine. The ones who are selfishly willing to “ruin it for the rest of us” are the fools who think their lives matter more than anyone else’s. The hospital has not yet had the surge, so it is not time to move forward.

      • All scientists, epidemiologists and all in the healthcare field, with more that a bachelor’s degree, are willingly ignorant.
        Not to mention selfish.

  9. The only reason I have been working is because I am working alone with no one here. I go from home to here and back without any problem whatsoever because I am the only one here. :-^

  10. well, at this point, wed at 9 am, 19 comments on this thread. All of them thoughtful ,with the exception of Ajay’s comment showing the full effects of ” trump derangement syndrome “.
    A thoughtful, honest, and respectful debate is why we are here.
    Thanks to the Times for keeping this open.

    • The Left is using this virus to try to achieve what they so miserably failed at in their sham impeachment circus.

    • Like Covid – 19 TDS is not a partisan disease.
      TDS is now in every community in America.
      80+% of American’s have it.
      40% think that Trump can do no wrong wrong.
      40% think he can do no right.
      Oh the joys of modern American politics.
      “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
      To quote a quote by the the second best President this country has ever had.

  11. Not only should one man crews be allowed right now, but if 2 or more persons live together, why can’t they work together. I live with my wife, are you saying my wife and I who sleep together can’t work together?

  12. So far from what I have gathered, we all may get cov19 or have cov19. If so, it is showing different outcomes for every patient and fortunately most end up healthy, yet we know some are fatal. Hospitals being equipped to handle an amount of serious cases, that are unforeseen logistically, is a big issue. Having any remedy still will take months. The SOCIAL DISTANCING is the only ability we have to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed until we have a better handle of this situation. Shop smart to alleviate visits. With that said, we still will have to make money (or trade, borrow, beg $1200 goes quick) I agree with Mr. Packish that this is a decree the Board of Health will have to submit with macro prudential analysis for regulation.

  13. The problem is not you or me, because we will be very careful. Right? The problem is we all know someone will ignore the precautions and will think they are immune, and before they have any symptoms they will spread it to their truck, the tools, the portapottie, the kitchen they are working on, the door handles, and on and on. Soon the entire crew will have it, and the homeowner checking out the job, and before you know it they will head home, spread it to their families, but only after stopping at the grocery store on their way home, then the post office, then the gas station, and on and on. Do you really trust all the other contractors, the ones you have already been complaining about because they don’t do things right?

    • Zephyr– your logic is spot on. The question is , what is the exit strategy? Where and when do we start taking some risk ? I don’t think we can just remain in this situation while we wait for a vaccine, which will take a while; At least a week if you believe trump, about a year if you believe the people who have dedicated their lives to such things.. Sorry, TQ for injecting politics in this comment, but that is the reality of the differing time lines.

      • This has already been discussed under a different article, but it’s important and seems worth mentioning again. I would encourage anyone who is waiting for a vaccine to fill out the census. Those numbers will be used to determine how many vaccines are needed. After what could be a lengthy wait, we don’t want to come up short. Please, everyone, make sure you’re counted and tell friends and family to do the same.

  14. The opening of the Pandora’s box was the construction ban to begin with. The term construction ban is misleading. It’s carpenters, plumbers, electricians, HVAC installers, landscapers, painters, housecleaners etc. What that amounts to is hundreds of additional people going in and out of the grocery stores, liquor stores, and pharmacies every day. If you’re going to catch anything those are the three most likely locations. Let’s work to reduce that number. Worker or workers on an isolated jobsite, practicing common sense safety measures, is infinitely safer for the island as a whole. Workers coming over on the boat is a totally separate issue. And should be handled separately. We shouldn’t be punishing people that work on the island who also chose to live here. Domestic violence is on the rise. Sexual abuse is on the rise. Child abuse is on the rise. The stay-at-home rally cry is certainly a benefit to some, but to others it’s a nightmare with no end in sight. Let’s try to inject some common sense and compassion into the next round of decisions.

    • Spindrift, you’re right about abuse. I’ve been worried sick about kids being stuck at home when their homes are not safe. But I don’t understand your comments about the construction ban leading to workers spending more time in grocery stores or pharmacies than necessary. Whether employed or unemployed, we’ve all been asked repeatedly not to shop more than once a week. Why would this differ for construction workers? Are out-of-work restaurant servers doing the same? I don’t think so. If they have extra time on their hands, they should be home. Like everyone else. Which is the case for my friends in the professions you listed. They’re not using the ban as an excuse to crowd stores.

  15. Zephyr…The people that are going to ignore the precautions are already out there. They’re drifting in and out of the various open stores daily. We see them every day. Nothing is going to change the way they act. We may want to rethink holding 99% of the people hostage because the 1% might do something wrong.

  16. Tyranny is now the biggest threat to our free society. We’re being forced to surrender liberty to a few so-called experts, who demand control over our every movement. Like we’re pawns. Like they’re herding livestock.

    I can only hope that widespread acts of social disobedience will soon straighten things out. I believe most Americans remain chock full of common sense, along with an unquenchable thirst for independence. Likewise, I think most are fed up with “officials” dictating when they’re allowed to start or stop enjoying freedom.

    Put a mask on, keep yer darn distance, isolate when sick, shelter the seniors… and let’s get back to work already! Reserve real fear and panic for the unthinkable Great Depression that happens, if we just keep sitting around wringing our hands.

    • “so-called experts?” No, they really are experts. Anthony Fauci, MD, attended medical school at Cornell University Medical College. He graduated first in his class. Deborah Birx, MD, earned her MD from Hershey Medical Center of Pennsylvania State University. Birx was the Director of the United States Military HIV Research Program at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. She led the HIV vaccine clinical trial of RV 144, the first supporting evidence of any vaccine being effective in lowering the risk of contracting HIV. So, OldFarmer, who, then, are the real experts?

      I do not believe that most Americans are chock full of common sense. Evidently, it is not so. Did you see where Kellyanne Conway claimed the COVID-19 was called COVID -19 because there were 18 COVIDS before it? (The ’19’ is taken from the year 2019. COVID-19 short for ‘coronavirus disease 2019.) Yet, people will believe her. I hope you do not count her as an expert.

  17. SO, if the problem is not you or me, then we can end all this hysteria and go to work. As long as YOU take precautions, you will be all right.
    If you look at the statistics, you have a better chance of dying by hitting a deer with your truck on the way to work than acting irresponsibly on ANY job site.
    And for those “waiting for the surge”, STAY HOME and it won’t include you

  18. (Reposting my comment I wrote in Gazette this morning under name Year Rounder)

    The short answer to your question ‘why the big rush’ is that people need to get back to work, so they can pay their bills and support their family. I think a very tribal thinking has emerged that has pushed people into two camps: those who want to keep things shutdown until a vaccine is created or the virus has essentially extinguished itself, and those who can’t afford to wait that long and need to get back to work ASAP. It’s dangerous because it’s pits one group against another. And those that advocate for a prolonged shutdown are quick to call those who want to get back to work ‘reckless’ or ‘stupid’ and it’s short-sighted and disingenuous. The whole shutdown was predicated on models that initially projected up to two million Americans could die in this pandemic. But those models were then revised down to between 120-240K, then down to 87K, the again down to 60K. And before someone argues the death toll was only lowered because of the lockdown and social distancing, remember those models were calculated factoring in these things as a best case scenario. Somewhere along the line the narrative changed from: ‘we have to flatten the curve so we don’t overwhelm our health care workers’ to ‘we have to stay locked in our homes until this virus goes away completely.’ And that’s just not feasible for a number of reasons. We can and must start to get people back to work in a safe and sustainable way. At some point we have to reopen our economy, or else there won’t be an economy to reopen.

    • What is you balance point between dead Islanders and reopening the economy?
      If one of your family members is among the dead?

    • The narrative of safety at all cost has taken over, and it does not permit a more realistic and balanced view that includes concerns for the residents who need to earn a living, the reality that the spread (as you note) is not as dire as projected. Here on the Island, I have seen a person cower when confronted by a 4 month old puppy (he seemed certain that puppies are carriers); a mountain biking mother exhorting her son to literally dive into the woods to protect against the virus as I raced by on my bike (is charging along on a mountain bike a symptom of Covid-19?). Maybe we can all take the advice of Marcus Aurelius: If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

      Alternatively, this guy (Stanford epidemiologist is very thoughtful); his message is worth your time:

      As for the emerging summer vs year round sillyiness – we should all ignore this discussion. The real issue is the working people on this island. While the US economy is going to have a recession, the Vineyard is likely to have a depression. This should be an important consideration for each reader of the MV Times.

    • You are incorrect. No one is “locked in our homes”. We go outside and go to get essentials. No one except you is saying we have to wait for a vaccine or wait for the virus to “go away completely”. What we are being told is that the lockdown should not end abruptly or too soon. The coutry will open up slowly and things will be different. People who work in stores and restaurants will wear masks, for example, tables will be farther apart, and we will have the tests and fast results as the President promised. Premature attempts to open up will result in a new wave of cases and more deaths. It is absolutely true that social distancing and the lock downs have lowered all the mortality models. We now have a new normal.

      These are the conditions that are advised by experts:
      1. Disease transmission is under control

      2. Health systems are able to “detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact”

      3. Hot spot risks are minimized in vulnerable places, such as nursing homes

      4. Schools, workplaces and other essential places have established preventive measures

      5. The risk of importing new cases “can be managed”

      6. Communities are fully educated, engaged and empowered to live under a new normal

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