Working for your health

Data drives progress in many ways.

Dukes County Health Council welcomes community input and involvement. — MV Times

Why are data so important to our community’s health? Who’s collecting them, and why?

What college student, this writer among them, hasn’t winced at the thought of spending an entire semester collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data in their first statistics class? The topic of data collection can be off-putting for many who perceive it as a lackluster or overly complicated pursuit. But without it, researchers would not have enough information to make wise decisions that might have an important social impact.

During any given moment, data are being collected worldwide to inform medical research, propel advances in engineering, help leaders make political decisions, or to shape public policy. The sky’s the limit in the ends that can be achieved with timely and relevant information. It provides researchers with a roadmap of where they need to head, and helps them understand what they’re doing well, and what areas need improvement. Essentially, data drives progress.

This type of progress is happening right at home at the Inter-Island Public Health Excellence Collaborative (i2PHEC), envisioned by Cynthia Mitchell, founder and CEO of Island Health Care Community Health Center (IHC). Island Health Care acts as the anchor organization for the grant-funded collaborative. The collaborative has many participants, including the Dukes County Health Council and the health departments of each Island town. Kathleen Samways, chief public health officer at IHC, explains that local data collection is one goal of the collaborative: “The i2 Collaborative envisions the collection, analysis, and prioritization of data on our community’s health, health systems, and services. This will create a clear picture of the current health status of our community, what its health-related needs are, find ways to address them as a community, and facilitate planning. The i2PHEC’s initial focus has been on addressing social determinants of health, those 80 percent of ‘other things’ that keep you well, or sick, after you have seen your medical provider and picked up your prescription; things like housing, environment, food security, emotional and financial stress, substance use, and mental health.”

The i2PHEC is the organizational home for a large public health grant funded by the State Action for Public Health Excellence (SAPHE) through the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The grant allows towns to expand the sharing of staff and resources to improve local public health effectiveness and efficiency. To accomplish its goals, several professionals were hired, each having a specialized area of focus.

Alexis Babaian, a community/population health specialist, is working on several projects that will result in assessment of community needs in selected health outcomes and populations. She recently organized a Community of Practice conversation on “Racism as a Public Health Issue” in the summer camp organizations on the Island. She is currently working with a public health student from Brazil, designing a health survey for our Brazilian population.

Biologist Patrick Roden-Reynolds has a background in white-tailed deer and tick research, and is available to perform a tick sweep of your yard to determine its tick density. Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and other tick-borne illnesses are prevalent on the Vineyard, and dense tick populations are linked to higher incidence of disease. For more information on how you might benefit from this project, visit

Celena Guimaraes, born in Brazil and fluent in Portuguese, is a new public health inspector who focuses on food and environmental safety. She is providing support to the public health departments by doing kitchen, pool, and soil inspections during this busy season. She will also be working on the population health survey with Babaian.

These new employees are supervised by the towns’ boards of health. Together, they are fulfilling the state’s blueprint for training, health objectives, and data collection. The work they do, the support they provide, and the information they gather are key to paving the way toward a healthier community. Their efforts serve as a reminder that our public health is in talented and industrious hands.

The Innovative Healthy Aging M.V. program addresses workforce housing shortage while helping seniors to live in their homes. Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard (HAMV), which has unveiled a new and creative program to address our workforce housing shortage while benefiting older adults who live alone, discovered (through data collection) that one in three older adults reside by themselves in multi-bedroom homes. With this data in mind, they adapted home-sharing models used in other communities to design the Older Adult Home Sharing Pilot Program to unite employed individuals in need of housing with older adult homeowners who may need help around their homes, companionship, or added income. The homeowner, known as a “host,” is paired with an Island employee, known as a “guest” under a specific set of agreed-upon terms, which are put in writing and signed by both parties. To help create an agreement which truly reflects the needs of both parties, HAMV is partnering with M.V. Mediation, which will provide a facilitator to support the development of the agreement, and will hold check-in sessions once they have begun living together.

HAMV has collected a range of information for potential participants to utilize while they think through the terms of their agreements, including a detailed questionnaire which identifies what a host might want in a housemate; maybe someone to take out the trash, walk the dog, help with gardening or shopping, or to pay a portion of the household expenses. Perhaps the host goes to bed early, enjoys specific quiet times, or maybe they want to use their extra bedroom for visiting family during the holidays. All of these things are included in the agreement. HAMV understands that each host’s requirements are different, and will try to accommodate varying requests in searching for a compatible guest. This promising new program provides affordable housing, enhances financial well-being, promotes companionship, relieves loneliness and isolation, helps older adults maintain independence, and provides security. It’s a win-win all around. If you are an older adult who owns a home and would consider sharing it with a guest, you can find more information at Or you can call HAMV’s executive director, Cindy Trish, at 508-693-7900, ext. 455.

Dukes County Health Council meetings occur on the third Thursday of the month from 7:30 to 9 am. They are open to the public. Agendas are published on the Health Council’s website at Victoria Haeselbarth is an outreach worker at the Edgartown Council on Aging and former council member, who continues to serve on the health information subcommittee.