Martha’s Vineyard Community Services on Wednesday unveiled a strategic plan to grow in services, size and funding over the next five years, but within a year the organization expects to have better services in place for Islanders with drug and alcohol problems.
Talks already are underway between community services and the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, with help from the department of public health, to coordinate care for Islanders with substance abuse or mental health concerns.
Currently the hospital has no inpatient services for patients hospitalized for drug and mental health emergencies. When a patient comes to the emergency room, community services’ staff is called to assist them.
“If someone is really in crisis and not at the hospital already, we make sure they get there. Our workers take it from there,” community services executive director Julia Burgess explained. “We either address the problem there or, if they need further hospitalization, we coordinate for them to go off the Island for care.”
When an Island resident is released from receiving inpatient care for mental health or substance abuse problems at an off-Island hospital, it can be a hard transition back to Vineyard life. Often patients must commute on and off the Island daily to receive care. “It’s hard for them to make that trip, and then maybe they stop going for their services and end up back in the emergency room,” Mrs. Burgess said.
So among other goals, the strategic plan includes an on-Island outpatient program as well as the development of a crisis stabilization unit at the hospital. Both programs will allow struggling patients to stay in the community while receiving care.
The talks between the hospital and community services aim to have both programs up and running within the year, Mrs. Burgess said.
It is a critical issue; the last comprehensive health study of the Vineyard noted the Island’s high rates of substance abuse and depression, and these conditions are more pronounced in the winter months.
“If someone lives here, their support system is here,” Mrs. Burgess said.
Community Services already has begun a process of reorganization, most notably by disbanding its visiting nurse services. The organization’s new strategic plan notes several other groups of Islanders — children under two, seniors, people with disabilities, youth and Brazilians — whose needs are underserved. The plan calls for new services including expanded programs for domestic violence prevention and more outreach to the Vineyard’s Brazilian population.
The organization is working on grants to expand care for the Island elderly and their caregivers. Community Services recently hired a part-time director for disability services. The only Island organization to cater to infants up to the age of two, Community Services plans to continue all these services, Mrs. Burgess said.
The largest human services provider on the Island, with an annual budget in 2008/09 of nearly $5.5 million, the organization also aims to stabilize its finances over the next five years.
When it comes to fund-raising Community Services is perhaps best known for its Possible Dreams auction, long run by the late Art Buchwald. In the past two years the auction has raised substantially less than in the auction’s heyday; since the death of Mr. Buchwald in 2006, the organization struggled with how best to revamp the event. This year it was held at Outerland, a major logistical shift to a new venue that organizers hoped they could establish as its new home; the club owners last week announced that Outerland was up for sale.
The strategic plan includes a shift from reliance on special events for funding. Focus will turn to collecting more third-party payments, expanding the endowment to $5 million and increasing the number of major donors by three donors per year.
The plan also calls for better facilities and more space for Community Services staff (100 staff and 75 volunteers) and for its programs.
Currently, Community Services operates five programs out of its Vineyard Haven-Edgartown Road campus across from the high school. They are: a community building and innovation program; CONNECT to End Violence (formerly Women’s Support Services); Early Childhood Programs; a disability services program; and the Island Counseling Center.
Mrs. Burgess said the five programs on campus need more space. The space which once housed the longtime visiting nurses program, which closed this spring, is already in use as meeting space, she explained.
The organization also operates the Vineyard Haven Thrift Shop.
Another goal of the plan is to “establish the organization as an employer of choice on the Island,” which Mrs. Burgess explained as “recruiting a staff which really reflects the demographics of the Vineyard.” This means creating more part-time jobs to fit the work profile of Vineyard residents, many of whom work multiple jobs throughout the season. It means recruiting from the Brazilian community through advertisements. To do this, the organization must improve its Portuguese language capabilities, Mrs. Burgess said. Plans also include expanded training for older and longtime employees and connecting with younger workers through outreach to the high school and Cape Cod Community College. Mrs. Burgess also announced plans to expand fringe benefits, reimburse tuition costs for staff and explore affordable housing opportunities.
The plan also calls on community services to sharpen its image. “We have long been known for our auction and for being the main game in town for services,” Mrs. Burgess said. “We need to be known as more. We want to be known as a leader in the community, an advocate for people, doing preventative work and outreach, more than only services, being a real spokesperson for the Island community as an advocate.”
To fulfill their many goals, the group plans to conduct annual reviews of its board, its director and staff. They also plan to establish a group to review annual progress on the strategic plan. “The plan is a work in progress,” Mrs. Burgess said. She encouraged community members to view and comment on the plan at mvcommunityservices.com.