Public Health Forum Wednesday Precedes August Summit on Care

By JULIA WELLS

Call it a laboratory for learning about health care on Martha\'s Vineyard. Or call it the Foundation for Island Health.

Either way you get the same thing: A young Island foundation aimed at testing a patient-centered, self-funded community health system whose cornerstones are prevention, education and state-of-the-art technology.

Now, two years after it was launched, the outlines for the foundation have begun to take on a little more definition.

\"We have begun to distill what it is we are going to do, which is initiate, test and evaluate new ways of delivering health care and providing programs in health care and wellness,\" said Carole Cohen, who is the chief operating officer for the foundation.

\"We\'re going to do it on a community basis, involving as many institutions on the Island as we can. And we\'re not going to operate programs. Once we are done with a project, we will pass it on to another group or institution to operate the program,\" she added.

The foundation has a number of activities planned in the months ahead, including a pilot project for an innovative community medical information system on the web, a trial health care advocate program and a summer symposium on Vineyard health care.

The symposium will also be sponsored by the Dukes County Health Council and Healthy Communities Martha\'s Vineyard.

The agenda for the symposium will be set after two community forums aimed at gathering public opinion; the first forum is planned this Wednesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Martha\'s Vineyard Hebrew Center. A repeat forum will be held the following Thursday at the same time at the Howes House in West Tisbury.

The forums will be structured as back-to-back platforms for a wide range of questions about health care on the Vineyard, but the responses will be reserved for the August symposium. Panelists at the symposium will include John Ferguson, the chairman of the board of trustees at the Martha\'s Vineyard Hospital; Cynthia Mitchell, the new director of the Island insurance program; Ilene Kline, an Island family practitioner, and Donald Berwick, a nationally recognized physician who founded a nonprofit institute dedicated to improving the quality of medical care in the United States.

Ms. Cohen said the only topics that the forums will pointedly avoid are the financial condition or management at the Island hospital.

\"We are hoping that Islanders will come and express their concerns about their health care in an effort to find some consensus,\" she said.

The foundation was established in August of 2000. The chief executive officer is Dr. Charles Silberstein, a Vineyard psychiatrist.

Last year the foundation received a $50,000 start-up grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and launched an ambitious fund drive aimed at raising $1.2 million.

Since then the foundation has made progress on a handful of projects aimed at testing new health care systems. One is an electronic outpatient database the foundation hopes to establish among Vineyard doctors. The pilot project will include the development of an electronic bulletin board; patients who volunteer to participate in the program will have their medical information entered into the bulletin board. The patient will have a user identification number, and the bulletin board information will be available to the doctors of participating patients.

Initially the bulletin board will only be among the doctors who have offices in the hospital, and Ms. Cohen said the hospital has agreed to pay for the installation of T-1 lines in the doctors\' offices. She said the plan calls for eventually expanding the network to include all the Vineyard doctors and later even complementary health care practitioners.

Also this summer the foundation plans to launch a pilot health care advocate project. Under the project, a nurse at the Island hospital will keep track of cases and act as an advocate for 10 to 20 patients with chronic illnesses. At the end of six months, Ms. Cohen said, the foundation will evaluate a number of factors, including whether the patients are more comfortable with their care, whether their health has improved, whether the doctors are more comfortable with the care they are giving and whether the cost of care has been reduced.

Ms. Cohen said the foundation also plans to establish a community institutional review board, made up of doctors and members of the Vineyard community who are not members of the foundation. The purpose of the board is to look at the foundation proposals and evaluate them.

\"We think we need that,\" she said.