Board Studies New Hospital

Audience at Open Forum Says: Don't Rush to Conclusions, and Be Sure to Include Public in the Debate

By JONATHAN BURKE

Island health care officials urged the Martha's Vineyard Hospital board of directors Saturday not to exclude the community at large in a rush to develop plans for a new facility.

The comments came in an open forum at which Marc Rowland, a partner with Thomas, Miller and Associates, the hospital board of trustees' architectural and consulting firm, assured listeners that community input would be sought during each of three phases in the planning process for a proposed new hospital. The three phases are information gathering, underway currently; facility planning, and presentation.

"Every community has special needs and we are in the process of understanding them," he told a group gathered in the Tisbury School's gymnasium.

The only conclusion drawn so far, he said: that a new facility needs to be built.

He then recited a list of flaws with the current hospital:

* It takes longer to walk from one end to the other in the Island's current 21-bed hospital than it does in the new 200-bed facility which Thomas Miller recently built in Florida. With services splayed over the entire length of the hospital, some staff members walk back and forth many times a day, losing valuable work time.

* Staff work stations are set up along the hospital's long corridors because there is no other space.

* The front door is hard to find, set back from the parking lot and without a covered walkway to protect patients from the elements.

* The exterior of the building is dirty and costly to maintain.

* Parts of the building can't be used by those with disabilities.

* Housekeeping supplies are sometimes kept in utility closets because there is no other space.

* Patient rooms are cramped.

As it currently stands, there is not a specific vision for the new facility, or even where it would be built.

John Ferguson, chairman of the Martha's Vineyard Hospital board and chief executive officer of the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey said the board desires a first-class hospital which offers every service needed on the Island.

Those in the audience who asked questions or made comments at the forum - predominantly members of the Dukes County Health Council - seemed to like what they heard.

"My one concern is that Aug. 14 date up there," said Kathy Logue, treasurer of the health council, referring to a date on the timeline deadlining the information-gathering portion of the plan. "It looks very final and finite. I urge you not to stick by that date if it doesn't work. Those who live and work here year-round are going to be terribly, terribly busy between now and August."

Jane Cleare, also a member of the health council, said Islanders who do not use the hospital should be asked: "What do you need? What do you have to have in a hospital to make you feel welcome, that you can trust."

Tad Crawford, chairman of the health council, said, "Far too many are postponing critical care. Far too many are going off-Island to get their care."

Bob Tonti, a member of the health council and executive director of the Foundation for Island Health, said the foundation is in the midst of tabulating results - more than 1,800 responses - to its comprehensive health needs survey.

Mr. Tonti said the foundation would begin analyzing its data over the next three weeks but that the final results probably would not be available by Aug. 14.

Freddie Rundlet, health director for the Wampanoag Tribe, asked how a planning committee could proceed without looking at the larger context.

"Something like spending $30 to $50 million doesn't happen every day," he said following the meeting. He said it is hard to design a house in three months, let alone a hospital.

At the forum, Mr. Rundlet said that the Wampanoag Tribe looked forward to participating in the planning process.

Tim Sweet, board member, said it would be folly to try and become a Mayo Clinic or a Mass General; the Vineyard hospital would focus on striving to be great diagnosticians. Where possible and necessary, he said, partnerships would be sought with hospitals that offer specialized services, such as Mass General.

But what exactly the hospital's identity would be Mr. Sweet could not answer. "What belongs on Martha's Vineyard and when should we maybe make that trip off-Island?" are questions the board is trying to answer, Mr. Sweet said.

A number of those in attendance at the forum requested reassurance from the board that Windemere, the nursing and rehabilitation facility, would not be dismantled in the process of building a new hospital. They were assured that the board of directors was committed to Windemere.

Early estimates for a new facility, according to Tim Walsh, chief operating officer of the Vineyard hospital, are $30 million.