Martha’s Vineyard Hospital: Tim Walsh, CEO

by HCE Exchange on August 19, 2010

Set in the picturesque, affluent and vacation destination a few miles off of the Massachusetts mainland, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital must juggle the needs of its small population of year-round residents with the demand for services from summer visitors. It’s an unenviable task, as during the off-season the hospital operates as a small-town hospital, serving around 15,000 residents. But, once the warm weather hits, the island hospital is inundated with a temporary population reportedly at 100,000. “We become like two different kinds of hospitals,” notes CEO Tim Walsh. He adds it’s a challenge that Martha’s Vineyard welcomes in order to serve residents of the island resort, no matter how long their stay.

A steady rise for nearly a century

Designated as a critical access hospital by Medicare, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital is a 25-bed hospital along with an 80-bed nursing home. The hospital’s gross annual revenue is about $100 million. Walsh first joined the organization in 2000, coming in as the CFO, but quickly moving up to the CEO position. Walsh explains that the organization goes back to 1929, but the current hospital is slightly less aged, having been built in 1972. The age of the facility was one of the main motivators for committing to the construction of a new hospital. “Our current site is just worn out, sitting right on the water, salt has taken its toll. So, about five years ago we decided to work on replacing the facility and the goal was to fundraise the entire price, which was close to $45 million.” The organization was successful and was able to raise the funds in about two years. “Construction has been underway for about a year and we have about five months to go.” Residents and those interested in the construction process were able to keep track of the progress by checking in on the hospital’s live webcam on its web site.

A new hospital brings added benefits

IC Thomasson and Associates and Thomas, Miller & Partners from Tennessee were the architects for the design process because they’ve done a number of critical access hospitals, while Columbia Construction is being utilized for the management of the building. The new hospital will keep the 25-bed arrangement, but will now feature all private rooms. The hospital will double its ER space, going from eight rooms to 16. “Our previous ER was really inadequate for the volume that we see, especially during  peak season, so that’s going to be a big improvement at the new facility.” Walsh says the laboratory department was also undersized, so that has been expanded and a permanent MRI is being installed rather than the mobile one now used.  “All of our radiology equipment is digitized and we have tele-radiology for off-hour x-rays that can be read in Boston. We’ve also established a telemedicine program, where we have a high speed video camera in the ER, so if we have a stroke patient, we can have a neurologist at Mass General analyze the data and can join the ER staff via teleconference.” There was a real emphasis on making sure the new ER department was very strong and capable of meeting the demand of the area.

Balancing the needs of a changing population

“We try to be really good at the basics,” states Walsh, “but it’s a challenge,”  Walsh explains that nurses and physicians have to be brought in during the summer to meet the rising population and this leads to having to allocate funds to housing this temporary staff. This can be particularly expensive considering the price of real estate on the island resort. “We actually spend about $800,000 a year on housing, which is unique for a 25-bed hospital.” Walsh adds that this spending nearly led to the demise of the hospital, as a significant amount of capital was being spent on this expense. “We went on a recruitment drive and now have full time physicians, which has really helped to make us financially viable. We’ve been in the black for six years straight, having gone from being in bankruptcy and nearly being closed in the mid-90s.”

Martha’s Vineyard Hospital is trying to stay on the cutting edge on all fronts. And that means the new hospital is designed to be “green.” Walsh explains that the organization is hoping to receive a silver certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) from the U.S. Green Building Council. The new facility will boast 200 solar panels that will generate about a third of the hospital’s required energy. It will also feature environmentally-friendly building materials and a roof garden that will provide insulation and a wellness retreat for patients. Water conservation was also included in the design and the installed system should help to cut down about 30 percent of the hospital’s water usage. It’s clear to see that although for some months of the year, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital is a small-town facility, that hasn’t stopped the organization from thinking big, in order to provide its diverse patient population the services they need.

-by Jacqueline Rupp

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