The Future of Nursing Home Care On-island
Navigator Elder Homes seeks to combat the three plagues of aging on the Vineyard.
A new skilled nursing facility centered around socialization and independence is soon to replace the outmoded Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
Although Windemere was considered state of the art when it was constructed in the 1990s, the institutional model that the facility uses has created operational losses each month, and is no longer a sustainable option for elders on-Island.
According to research conducted by Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard (HAMV), the senior demographic on the Island is growing rapidly, and the data shows that while there were 2,699 elders in 2010, that is expected to rise to just over 6,300 by 2030, and 7,258 by 2050.
Navigator Elder Homes of Martha’s Vineyard is providing a new method of nursing home care through Green House Model homes — individual homes where each resident has their own living space and private bath, with a large communal kitchen and hearth space that encourages
Interaction and independence. This model helps combat the three plagues of aging: loneliness, helplessness, and boredom.
According to CEO of Navigator Elder Homes Renee Lohman, she was contacted in 2018 by the Martha’s Vineyard Healthy Aging Task Force, which was at the time in conversation about what might be a suitable replacement for the Windemere facility.
As the number of elders on-Island continued to increase, healthcare professionals and others were concerned that Windemere would not be able to handle the aging population.
Paddy Moore, CEO of HAMV, reached out to Lohman and asked her about the Green House Model projects being undertaken on the Cape and in southeastern Massachusetts.
“She was wondering how we could build on the work of Healthy Aging to look at the Green House Model as a way to be a successor project for Windemere,” Lohman said.
Lohman immediately engaged in the HAMV group, and spent time in meetings, receiving education about the state of aging on the Vineyard, and was ultimately introduced to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital CEO Denise Schepici.
It wasn’t long before she was responding to a public request for proposals (RFP) from the hospital, and Navigator was the group that was awarded the RFP to construct five Green House Model homes at 490 Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road in Edgartown.
The five homes will be clustered around a central outdoor gardening area, and each residence will include 14 private bedrooms, a central common area with a fireplace, and an open kitchen for family-style dining.
Additionally, workforce housing for 30 Navigator employees and 30 hospital employees will be constructed adjacent to the Green Houses.
In total, the homes will serve 70 elders, who will receive round-the-clock care from highly trained Green House staff. Some of these nurses will serve as day-to-day support staff — handling needs like medication and physical assistance — and will build a close relationship with residents. Other skilled nurses can accommodate needs like physical therapy and short-term rehabilitation services after surgery or hospitalization.
Ever since first discussing the idea with the hospital and with HAMV, Lohman said it was clear a strong partnership would be formed based on the shared goals of each organization.
“My whole theory has always been that relationships are primary, and everything else is derivative. Since that time of that initial conversation, we have made monumental progress,” Lohman said.
The hospital purchased the land for the new nursing centers from Peter Norton and his family, then donated it to Navigator Elder Homes’ nonprofit arm for their use.
Navigator hired Ed Pesce, an engineer from Dennis, to design the project, along with LWDA Design of Concord — an architectural firm that is well-versed in the regulations for elder homes established by the Department of Public Health.
As part of the land purchase agreement, more than half of the available site will be set aside as conservation land.
“We are really working to create the future of nursing home care on-Island — a place where elders are comfortable and happy, and they can live their lives to the fullest,” Lohman said.
The hospital is in the process of figuring out how to tie the development into the town’s wastewater treatment plant, but have run into issues with connecting pump stations that would need significant upgrades to accommodate the additional flow.
The flow increase would also require the town to complete a comprehensive wastewater management plan, a state requirement when daily flows reach up to 80 percent of sewer capacity.
Marissa Lefebvre, communications specialist for the hospital, said in an email that there is not yet an update on the wastewater aspect of the project.
According to Polly Brown, CEO of Vineyard Village at Home and Navigator Homes board member, Windemere has become outdated, and the institutional setting that is offered there “isn’t what people want.”
“Windemere is paying for operational losses, and they can’t really afford to keep doing that,” Brown said. “This is an incredible opportunity for the hospital and for healthy aging groups on Martha’s Vineyard, and it’s so important for our elders.”
According to Brown, the project is expected to break ground at the outset of next year, and there is already a list of folks who wish to live in the new homes.
“We will certainly have space for everyone from Windemere who would like to come and live there,” Brown added.
According to her, elders living in Green House homes are able to retain their independence and pride later on in life by living in a more homey and comfortable environment that also fosters socialization and connection.
“We on the Island have a moral obligation to our seniors to keep them here and give them the proper medical help they need, instead of sending them to off-Island facilities,” Brown said.