Staring down a job vacancy rate of 23 per cent last month, officials at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital are looking for new ways to attract people to the Island’s major health care provider.

The hospital and its nursing home had 219 job openings unfilled in February, an issue hospital staff say is part of a nationwide trend that has been exacerbated by the Island’s isolation and lack of affordable housing.

“More than 230,000 health care providers left the profession [nationwide] in the first two years of the pandemic alone,” said Claire Seguin, the chief nurse and at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. “MVH was not immune to these trends.”

The need for more health care workers on the Island has come as the senior population has grown, outpacing the supply of health care workers. According to the hospital job posting site, vacant positions span across departments, including nursing, administration, radiology, ultrasound, medical assistants, doctors, housekeeping and environmental services.

In an attempt to turn the tide, the hospital is trying several different ways to foster homegrown talent, or make it easier for newcomers to settle into Island life.

Partnering with the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions, the hospital has created a hybrid nursing program to help Islanders get training while avoiding off-Island travel. The hospital has also developed a new graduate-level course for Island residents transitioning out of nursing school.

Fourteen new graduates have entered the latter program and work in various parts of the hospital for 16 weeks to get further training.

The hospital also launched a new initiative to put hospital jobs in front of high schoolers. In a collaboration between the hospital and the regional high school, hospital officials met with high schoolers in the career technical education program last week to talk about potential careers in radiology, pharmacy and lab portions of the hospital.

In this initial phase of the fledgling program, David Caron, the hospital’s vice president of diagnostic and therapeutic services, and Amy Houghton, the director of contract and community projects, said they hope to introduce students to some of the less stereotypical jobs at a hospital, such as positions in respiratory therapy, cardiac rehabilitation and dietary health.

Both wanted to see the new high school initiative entice students to come back to the Island after going to college or going off-Island to get a certificate.

“On every level we’re looking at importing talent and we want to grow the talent and have a strong foundation here,” Ms. Houghton said.

Not every job can be filled by locals though, so the hospital leases and owns about $2.4 million worth of properties across the Island, allowing employees to live in them until they can find a place of their own.

Nine employees in the last year have left because of the housing issue, according to the hospital. Thirteen job candidates have declined offers because of housing, including two doctors, and candidates often drop out before finishing the interview process.

To fill the gaps, about 70 per cent of the staff at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center are travel staff, supplied by an agency and usually costing a premium.

It’s a move that many hospitals around the state have done, and one that has increased after the onset of the pandemic. A new report from the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association found hospitals across the state spent $1.3 billion more on temporary staffing in 2022 compared to 2019 — a 610 per cent increase.

While that solution may Band-Aid the problem and provide quality care right now, Mr. Caron fears that, unless the hospital gets creative, it could undermine the hospital in the long term.

“I worry about keeping the doors open one day, and the longevity and sustainability of a hospital like this without really tapping into the resources that are right there in front of our face,” he said. “We have to think outside the box.”