A farewell to ‘Tom the Great’

Hospice of M.V. annual meeting turns into a celebration for outgoing executive director.

Thomas Hallahan was celebrated for his work with Hospice & Palliative of Martha's Vineyard during the recent annual meeting of the nonprofit.

The annual meeting of Hospice & Palliative Care of Martha’s Vineyard turned into a celebration of Thomas Hallahan’s tenure as the organization’s executive director.

James Butterick, president of the nonprofit’s board of directors, invited board members, Hospice employees, and others in the audience to say a few words about Hallahan’s five years leading the organization, as Hallahan held back tears. He was presented with woven baskets with wampum, as well as a watch with the Island on the face, as he heads off for his new venture in Iraq.

“I don’t want to fall apart on Zoom,” he said as he opened the gifts during the March 17 virtual meeting.

His temporary replacement, Kathy City, was also introduced as the interim director during the meeting. City had already been working with Hospice of M.V. as a consultant on its Medicare certification, Butterick said. Now she’ll help from within the organization.

The target date for certification is in November.

Board member Carolyn Coverdale referred to him as “Tom the Great,” while others praised his leadership, business acumen, and his caring for clients and staff.

Board member Marilyn Wortman told a story about how Hallahan was there for her when one of her clients died from a fall, and she needed grief counseling: “You’ve just been a treasure, and I wish you well on your next endeavor.”

Sandy Pratt, who is leaving the board and was recognized for her work for Hospice of M.V., praised Hallahan. “You were definitely the perfect person to bring us to this point,” she said. “I’m sorry to see you go, but you left us in just fabulous shape.”

Kathy Sollitto, who is also leaving the board, was also recognized for her efforts on behalf of Hospice of M.V.

City, who has worked as a consultant for hospice organizations across the country, said she can get a sense of the culture within 20 minutes. She’s impressed with what she’s seen on the Island, and credits the strong leadership of Hallahan.

“I feel so blessed coming into an organization that is grounded in your mission and your vision, and in serving the Island, that it makes what I’m going to do so much easier,” she said. “It is certainly something I hope to follow in your footsteps and keep it in place.”

Some of the annual meeting also focused on the year’s biggest challenge — COVID-19 and the ongoing pandemic. From the initial problem of securing PPE (thank you, Corona Stompers) to finding ways to provide counseling and care (thank you, Zoom and telehealth), the year provided challenges, and turned “pivot” into a common refrain.

“My applause to each and every one of you for being able to shift, and not just once, but many, many times as we navigated this really unknown, uncertain landscape that unfortunately still continues,” Hallahan said.

Hospice of M.V. served a total of 75 patients in 2020, with 37 of them supported through their deaths, according to statistics provided during the annual meeting. There were 1,800 hours of counselling provided during the year.

Chantale Patterson, clinical director, said staff rose to the occasion and adapted. “We never shut down. We did pause … until we learned how to provide care to patients we were serving,” Patterson said. “What I feel to have been the hardest part of end-of-life care during this pandemic is no hugging. Truly an adjustment for us all.”

Two Island organizations — Island Grown Initiative and Slough Farm — were recognized for their contributions of warm soups for hospice patients and families. Barbara Phillips, a volunteer, was honored for her commitment as a “tireless worker,” and doing it with “humility” and “good humor.”

Alfred Woolacott III, the board’s treasurer, provided a financial update saying that federal loans that will be forgiven helped the nonprofit, as well as the organization’s generous donors, who increased their contributions by 30 percent. He said the nonprofit’s endowment continues to grow, with an increase from $5.9 million to $6.3 million. “COVID is not behind us yet, but the view is far sunnier than it was last year,” he said.

Butterick said as Hospice of M.V. continues to work toward certification, it will not lose sight of its mission. “It’s not about assisting people to their end, it’s about helping them live every day of their remaining lives to the fullest,” he said. “Let us continue to stay calm and carry on.”