Housing for hospital workers called ‘crisis’

MVH has difficulty attracting and retaining employees because of housing.

Denise Schepici says the housing situation on the Island is making it difficult to attract and retain employees. — Ashley Tilton

In January, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital thought it had some prime candidates for its job openings. They made offers to potential employees, and 19 candidates turned them down. 

“The single reason? The housing costs. The housing situation. That’s huge for us,” hospital CEO Denise Schepici told The Times. “Two of them were physicians. If anyone can afford it, it’s the docs, right? They said, ‘Denise, this is untenable.’”

At present, as the summer season quickly approaches, about a quarter of the hospital’s 400 jobs are vacant.

The hospital spends upwards of $3 million per year on housing for employees. And for those who are willing to commute to the Island, the hospital pays for their ferry passes and parking, doing anything and everything to create a stable workforce. It’s getting harder by the day.

Not only is the housing situation making it difficult to attract qualified candidates. It’s making it difficult to retain staff.

“I can see her face right now. She’s leaving in April. They’re just tired of the shuffle,” Schepici said. “She said, ‘We just can’t do this anymore.’ It’s heartbreaking. These are people we’ve come to know and love. They’re leaving the Island because they’ve had it. They’ve had it with the escalating costs. It’s not sustainable.”

In recent weeks, the hospital has been running advertisements in The Times seeking year-round rentals for staff. The hospital has also been supportive of the Coalition to Create the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank, which will go before town voters in all six towns this spring, and its parent company, Mass General Brigham, has openly lobbied for transfer fee bills that are before the state legislature to provide funding for a housing bank on the Island and elsewhere.

“We are at a crisis. The hospital is the largest employer on the Island. We touch the lives of everyone. My vision and goal is to bring the best we can bring to the Island so Islanders don’t have to leave the Island for basic services. Well, with those services come people who need to perform them — highly trained professionals, doctors, and technicians, and housekeepers, and all the things that make our hospital perform,” Shepici said. “When you have workers who make a median salary of $80,000 per year — and that’s the median — it’s still higher than the area median salary of $60,000 per year — who could afford a $1.3 million median house price? Then you have the issue of inventory declining — there are are even less rentals if you can even find one, and the prices just continue to go up. My vision for employee engagement has been about stability. Creating a stable, highly reliable workforce, bringing in new nurses to replace nurses who are retiring. Making sure we have the sustainability of this hospital in the way we’ve come to enjoy. Without the housing piece — I don’t think people really realize — without housing, healthcare is going to change.”

The inability to attract full-time staff makes the hospital reliant on so-called “travelers,” particularly in the summer months. Those are doctors, CNAs, and registered nurses who work for agencies. The travelers cost as much as $200 per hour, and the hospital has to find a place for those people to stay. “It’s really exorbitant,” Schepici said.

She’d rather hire full-time employees and create a stable staff, but it comes full circle to the lack of housing. 

“It’s gone up precipitously,” Schepici said of how much the hospital pays for staff housing. “When I first got here, it was $2 million annually, and then it dipped a little bit when COVID came about, because people weren’t going anywhere, but now with the costs per bedroom going up, we’re spending just under $3 million right now. That’s less bedrooms for that money, so the cost per unit is going up just exponentially. That’s money we could put toward direct patient care. This is something we have to do, or we’re not going to have healthcare workers.”


Pandemic pause

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the housing situation on the Island. People with second homes on the Island have turned them into primary residences. Others have scooped up available housing and driven costs up.

Meanwhile, the hospital played a key role in keeping Islanders safe during the pandemic — now going into its third year, but showing signs of easing.

“I cannot say enough about the women and men at the hospital who worked tirelessly to care for our community during the pandemic — 24/7 – on all the time,” Schepici said. “All of us at the hospital were very sad when we reported we lost a member of our Island community to COVID.  This has been a very tough time for all of us — going on three years now.  But I am most proud of our team, because they were there when our community needed them most — for care, for vaccinations, for testing, all while keeping up the day-to-day care our community needed and still needs. We had our challenges, but what we really had and still have is a fighting spirit. I will be forever grateful to everyone.”

The mantra was the same throughout, Schepici said. “How do we keep the Island and our caregivers safe?”

With the exception of a surge in cases in January driven by the omicron variant, Island numbers have been low, and the severity of infections has been relatively minor, compared with other parts of the country.

“It’s been pretty remarkable, as you look back on the work of the hospital, our health agents, our first responders, and other providers in sharing that common vision and goal,” Shepici said. “Being in this together was very powerful and impactful. What it showed me is that when we work together — as a community — we will care for one another, and we will help each other in a time of need. That generosity of spirit was the silver lining, if there can be one in a pandemic.”

Schepici said she is hopeful that with cases down, mask policies lifted, and the bulk of the population vaccinated against COVID, that the pandemic will soon be in the rearview mirror.


Looking to the future

In February, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital was recognized as a Top 100 Critical Access Hospital, and received a 5-star patient experience rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The hospital was rated on eight areas, including quality, patient perspective, and financial efficiency, according to a press release.

The five-star rating was based on “nurse communication, staff responsiveness, and overall hospital rating,” according to the release. 

“This is an extraordinary achievement for the hospital. All our employees work tirelessly every day to provide excellent patient care, and I’m happy that our teams are being recognized,” Shepici said in the release. “I’m so proud to work amongst such dedicated and compassionate professionals who truly put patients at the forefront of everything they do.”

While that recognition is appreciated, Schepici told The Times she is looking forward to implementing her strategic plan for the hospital, which includes bringing more clinical care closer to home, transforming nursing care, replacing the hospital’s aging facilities, and providing more workforce housing.

“Even during COVID, we pressed ahead with new programs, and in fact launched many new services during the last 18 months to prevent patients from having to leave the Island to receive care,” Shepici said. Among the new programs are full-time cardiology, podiatry, urology, neurology, vascular, pulmonary, and pediatric psych services, she said. The hospital also has more primary-care doctors, social work expansion, and full-time psychiatry.

“We also continued with great determination on advancing a transformational plan for the care of elders on-Island to replace Windemere, and have been working our way through a complex set of regulatory and town approval processes to hopefully make this a reality, and along with that a workforce housing plan,” she said.

The hospital purchased 26 acres on Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road in 2021, and hopes to build a combination of housing for elderly with skilled nursing care available, as well as workforce housing. The hospital is working with Navigator Elder Homes New England to create sustainable, transformative elder care for its dozens of residents through a concept called Green House homes.

“There’s a solution there, but it’s a slow slog to try to get it through the permitting process,” Schepici said.

The idea is to replace Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation on the hospital campus, and eventually use that building to provide other hospital services, Schepici said. “We need more clinical space,” she said. “With the population growing 24 percent in the last decade, I need more help here. I need more primary-care doctors.”

She said other buildings on the campus also need to be updated to provide better ambulatory care, which is another way to say outpatient care. “We’re working hard to make it come to reality,” Shepici said. It’s no longer possible to retrofit the older buildings, because there are leaking roofs and other problems. “We’re throwing good money at bad buildings. It’s time to refurbish and get new buildings going,” she said.


  1. The hospital has to be the single most important organization on the Island. There is no reason their 26 acre property can’t be fast tracked through mostly a redundant permitting process. Many of our lives depend on that. Anyone that foolishly slows that process down has to be selfish,

  2. The MV Hosiptal should provide housing for the people it wishes to entice to relocate here.
    Where are these hospital workers who refuse to come here informing themseves about the so-called “crisis”? It is likely that they read what is presented about these issues in the MV Times and the Gazette. Both sources have been steadily selling the need for more affordable housing on MV. So it is no wonder that many off islanders find the MV housing prospects daunting. If it were easy to live here, more people would be living here. Is that what we want? More traffic, more pollution, more waste year round? Let the Vineyard be for the people who are willing to make the sacrifices required to live here. The housing market is one main reason we are not so overpopulated as other places. That’s a good thing for the natural environment. Keep Our Island Green

    • What do we do when medical professionals have no interest in making the sacrifices necessary to live here?
      Accept a lower level of healthcare?
      Same goes for teachers?
      Of course being ruggeed individualists true Islanders need no care or education.

      • What do you consider acceptable sacrifices necessary to live on the Island? I think the most obvious would be daily life should be affordable. Housing they can afford, daily sustenance affordable, enough off time to de-stress from the job, affordable diversions during that free time, and let’s not forget: pay enough to save.

    • That fact that workers (in any industry) cannot find any sort of long-term housing is a real issue! My family of 3 has been looking for over 6 months. Add in that there are over 2,600 short term rentals only makes housing that much harder for the workers to find adequate living. To make matters worse for us, we do not qualify for the island housing trust.
      My family and I are one of the countless families looking. We’ve been in the same rental since 2019, but the family that owns the house wants us to move out before 6/1. What’s going to happen when there are no more workers around to do the work? We are heading that way. Both my husband & I have full-time year-round employment and a child in the schools, and we don’t know what we are going to do.

    • For the people willing to make the sacrifices required to live here, try this. Are they willing to sacrifice emergency healthcare?

  3. We can’t find doctors to come to the island and yet they let an excellent doctor in Mike Michotek go!

  4. The State Forest needs to be released for reasonable development for the sole purpose of civil servants , emergency personnel ,teachers and doctors .

    • Or why can’t the Land Bank change their focus from buying parcels of land to keep open buy parcels of land that could be divided into buildable lots. They are collecting the majority of their money from seasonal home buyers that require the services that come from our year round population. They could do it by application and lottery like the towns used to do. You would have to qualify by showing a history of living on the island or a job that was needed like, This worked well in the past and many island families benefitted.

  5. I do not agree with Paul and the impact of what big business wants to do on those 26 acres is huge. Let’s not hide behind the feel good words of Hospital and helping people all of this is big business and should be looked at carefully. It really is little difference than if this was a developer coming in to put up luxury homes. The developer would pay huge taxes to the town and so should the big business Hospital. Have you seen a hospital bill lately?
    We need dormitory housing for seasonal help. The units should be restricted April first to November first occupancy only and solve many of the housing issues on the island.

    • Mr Murphy, not every single article needs a comment from you.
      I dont agree with the hospitals take that they need to entice off island people. They need to pay their current employees better, and keep residential employees longer with better pay and benefits. What we dont need is people complaining that every single person is corrupt and misleading.

  6. Another story with what seems to be a redundant theme. Over and over. Year after year. Hospital workers leave for the mainl6because they can’t find housing. Then, mainlanders come to replace them enticed by big wages. But wait! The workers coming must know there’s an ongoing housing crisis here how can they not? Yet they still come and the Hospital with all its infinite wisdom doesn’t discourage them. They encourage them. How can the Hospital continue to put people in peril like this. Use the system. FastTrack housing. Get you stuff together. We thought we had issues with previous administrations. Oh boy this issue has been slow played long time now.

  7. This island better get real serious about the housing issue that is occurring here. Nantucket has provided affordable housing for state employees for several years. If our island doesn’t wake up, we are doomed.

  8. The hospital should be paying for trash, utilities and snow removal if they expect people to rent to them. No landlord should be responsible for those bills while the property is being sublet

  9. Another idea might be to direct efforts at instituting fast ferries from Woods Hole for the morning and afternoon commutes. It happened in 2018 when the normal ferries were out of commission. The travel time was approximately 15-20 minutes. Unlike the MV Housing Bank, the fast ferries would benefit EVERYONE who lives/works/visits the island. (Nantucket has a fast ferry)

    • For off Island workers parking and embarking on the mainland and disembarking and getting to their jobs on Island takes far more time than their underway time.
      Fast costs more, particularly in boats.
      There has been a semi fast ferry from the Head of of Falmouth Harbor to Oak Bluffs for well over decade.
      I have never seen it sold out.

      • I am an off islander commuter and your assessment is incorrect. I am also a former islander who purchased a home off-island. Perhaps you have never had to *regularly* commute to the island but the ferries do not always embark on time. Additionally, perhaps you were not able to benefit from the fast ferries in 2018 but it was head and shoulders above any other boat to the island. The solution to affordability on the island does not need to be zero sum. The housing coalition would be wise to hedge their bets and also put their efforts for a fast ferry – which is truly beneficial to all stakeholders. Lastly, I would gladly pay *double* for a ferry fare to cut my commute time in half.

        • convenient fast ferry commuter boats would help this problem. Not everyone who works here wants to live here!! tell the SSA to get some fast ferry’s and run a pilot program or sub contract it out

  10. Cost of building is insane. Land costs are out of sight. The island has come a long way from when a lot could be had for $10 or $20 grand. But if I could offer a couple of suggestions from my experiences. First of all SIPS Structural Integrated Panel System buildings go up fast and are more insulated and stronger than any conventional modular or stick built building. But land is a real issue. I do not see why it would be objectionable for hospital employees to be housed in an area nestled in and hidden from view in a Land Bank owned property. The land would be free, it would be invisible to the public, but it would be in an incredible area. I know people will hate this idea, but we need to do something. Perhaps a debate on how many units – for example – 4 maximum per site, or one maximum. But can we toss the idea around?

    • Frank–I usually agree with your opinions–and, as always, you make some good points with your comment. But the short answer to the idea of putting housing on land bank properties is a non starter . It is completely out of the purview of the land bank, visible or not.

  11. Anyone that does not support hospital housing has never been sick or knows of anyone needing care. Right now just try and get almost any test at the hospital. Appointments take several weeks due to lack of staff. That’s not safe. Everyone is getting older and I can’t believe anyone is delaying basic housing for hospital staff.

    • There is no housing shortage on the Island.
      Just look at ads in the MVT.
      If you are looking for affordable, wrong Island.

  12. I applaud MVH CEO Denise Schepici for clearly explaining how the housing challenge has reached crisis level and what that means for health care on MV. If doctors can’t afford to live on MV, our educators and support staff can’t afford to live on MV either.

    According to a recent survey conducted by the Martha’s Vineyard Educators’ Association, 40% of our teaching staff will retire in the next 10 years. I anticipate more will resign due to housing issues and off-island opportunities to live and work. There is already an educator shortage. How will we attract educators in the years to come?

    The housing crisis reaches far and wide and affects all of us. We need to look toward a sustainable future for our Island and support the workers who provide needed services.

    • My husband and I are both educators with higher ed degrees. We are in the process of attaining even more teaching licenses to continue to serve the island children. We love our jobs but we are also searching for housing. We have colleagues that are already applying to jobs off-island because they can’t find housing. Unfortunately, it looks like we will be in the same boat.

  13. consider zoning changes with conditions on development and ownership transition of the newly created lots. The talk has long been about young families being forced out. More recently, the concern has grown to include the labor force, hospital staff, first responders and educators. While at it, let’s not forget the elderly population who have had to sell in order to afford assisted care off island.

    I have suggested zoning changes in the past, only to be met with, “our infrastructure, schools, etc. will be overly taxed”. At this rate, in less than 20 years, the population will be largely seasonal and the their will be few school children (think Provincetown…a flourishing school system in the 70’s and gone 30 years later), so it is doubtful the Island will sink with additional planned development.

    example: If I owned a three acre lot and I could divide it into a second and third one acre lot, I could offer a property to a family member… something for my children, or elderly parents. Or, I could offer a property into a “housing pool” where I would be paid a percentage of what the overall piece of land is assesed at. I could then use those funds to help with the construction of a house for a family member on the remaining lot, or help offset assisted living costs for an elderly family member, or help pay for a child’s college education so they don’t graduate with overwhelming debt.

    in the above example, newly created lots could be limited in terms of the size of house (amount of development), and would forever be conditioned with a sales restriction, or tag, indicating the lot was part of the “2023 zoning act” meant to combat an affordable housing crisis. If my child decides to leave the island, and wishes to sell, he/she is only able to sell the property back into the family or into the affordable “housing pool” at a reasonable profit (formula tbd). if an elderly parent(s) pass on, and will the property back to me, or someone else, I/they are only able to utilize it as described above.

    This model would also allow for homeowners to build additional dwellings on their properties, that could be conditioned for “year round” rental opportunities. The revenue generated would allow for built equity, and/or monies to help with the education an/or the assisted living costs described above.

    With the proposed change, homeowner’s deeds may look a bit different than they do today, but that would be a small price to pay in order to make a significant difference in what otherwise will be a massive slip and fall for the Island community.

    Probably not a perfect model…but, we need a big idea moving forward.

  14. the housing issue is important and should receive and expedited preference. I think govt should partner with hospital on the project

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