Dukes County Health Council: Working for your health

Celebrating accomplishments and planning for the future.

The Dukes County Health Council wants to inform the community on ways to be more conscious about health. — MV Times

It’s human nature to spend more time examining our failures than celebrating our victories; to complain about the inconvenient steps needed to get a COVID booster, for example, rather than the fact we received one and are safer because of it. Psychologists call it negativity bias. But research indicates that if we make a choice to focus on the positive, minimizing the basic inconveniences that life hands us, we will remain happier, healthier, and better equipped to deal with obstacles along the way.

Reflecting upon 2022, there is a lot to be happy about. To define our victories, members of the Dukes County Health Council were asked what they thought were the Island’s most important health-related accomplishments. Here’s a snapshot of what our members had to say:

  • The Housing Bank proposal was overwhelmingly supported by the voters of all six towns — an important early step in helping to ensure that all our Island residents are safely housed.
  • The planning for a new dental clinic sponsored by Island Healthcare moved forward. The clinic will accept individuals insured through MassHealth.
  • Winter services for the homeless improved under the leadership of Harbor Homes, and the path to a permanent shelter appeared more likely.
  • Island health institutions worked collaboratively with public health departments and the media to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
  • No-cost COVID testing was offered by healthcare organizations.
  • Home COVID test kits and masks were provided free of charge through each municipality.
  • The “Test MV” drive-through COVID testing center completed its mission of making COVID testing easily available during the pandemic, and was able to close.
  • Healthcare entities including town health departments worked together to facilitate the exchange of important public health and planning information.
  • A clinical trial of a new Lyme vaccine launched with Martha’s Vineyard as a major study site — giving new hope in preventing a potentially serious illness that affects many Vineyard residents and visitors.
  • Monkeypox fortunately failed to live up to its potential as a new pathogen — sparing the community another potential epidemic.
  • The Substance Use Disorder Coalition was strengthened, enabling it to address a compelling need more effectively with a coordinated community response.
  • The waiting list for a primary care doctor was eliminated.

With many triumphs behind us and a 2022 victory lap complete, council members didn’t take much time to recover before expressing opinions on what our health priorities for 2023 should encompass. They unanimously agree that much work remains, including:

  • Housing our population in units that are safe, affordable, functional, and free from mold and vermin.
  • Increasing institutional capacity to address the Island’s combined mental health and substance use disorder needs, from youth to elders.
  • Integrating mental health and substance use disorders services into primary care.
  • Preparing for a growing older adult population, and supporting their successful aging at home.
  • Providing easier access to off-Island healthcare for older adults.
  • Mitigating the healthcare worker shortage by addressing its root causes, like unaffordable housing.
  • Ensuring affordable healthcare, timely access, and coverage for all Island residents.
  • Responding to climate change through actions that mitigate its health impacts.
  • Reducing health disparities by both strengthening effective communication among healthcare providers, and finding effective ways to communicate with vulnerable, often “invisible” members of our community.
  • Addressing the problems caused by the lack of an all-Island public health authority.

In 2022 our small Island stepped up to the plate, flexed its muscles, and hit a home run. We confronted seemingly insurmountable obstacles, sometimes with the grace and speed of a professional athlete, other times with the cautious determination of a mountain goat, carefully calculating passage through rough terrain to prevent a fall. Our journey will continue, with twists and turns, as we periodically reprioritize our goals to accommodate the Island’s shifting demographics and needs. 

Regardless of what impasses await, we can be assured that our local superstars in the health and human service fields will continue to pursue the goal of bettering the health of our community, one sure-footed step at a time, working to achieve seamless, coordinated, and complementary wellness services Island-wide. May your new year be abundant with good health and shared good times with those you hold most dear.