The Martha’s Vineyard Rural Health Guide for 2019: How to Access the Services, Resources & Care You Need

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What does it mean to be a “rural” community? Does Martha’s Vineyard fit your definition?

While distinct in many ways from communities that would be considered rural on the mainland, most Vineyarders would likely say yes—we have the farms, general stores, cricket-filled summer evenings, and sense of kinship to prove it.

Unfortunately, islanders also experience many of the challenges faced by other rural communities, particularly when it comes to our health, and our ability to access important prevention, treatment, and management services.

A huge part of our mission at Island Health Care is to help fill that gap, by ensuring all islanders and visitors, regardless of income or insurance status, have access to high-quality health care.

During National Public Health Week (April 1-7), and in keeping with Wednesday’s national focus on rural health issues, we’d like to highlight some of the island’s most pressing rural health challenges, as well as the resources and services Island Health Care provides to help Vineyarders combat them.

Here’s what says about the current state of rural health and healthcare:

“Rural communities face a range of health disparities, from higher burdens of chronic disease to limited access to primary care and prevention services. When compared to people living in urban areas, rural Americans face a greater risk of death from the five leading causes of death—heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke. Suicide rates are also higher in rural America than in urban areas, with that gap growing steadily since the early 2000s. The opioid addiction and overdose crisis has hit rural communities especially hard—the rate of fatal overdoses is higher in rural communities than in metropolitan ones. Complicating matters, rural residents are often more likely to face social determinants that negatively impact health, such as poverty, transportation barriers and lack of jobs that pay well.”

Here are just a few of the ways IHC patients can access the services and resources they need to address these unique challenges:

Chronic Disease Management

As part of the hospital-initiated grant project MV Partnership for Health, health center staff are trained in the highly acclaimed Stanford teaching model for chronic disease management.

Class leaders run regular six-week classes to educate and guide patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease who wish to become active in their own health.

People learn how to develop effective, life-enhancing action plans. Patients meet others with the same chronic illness, learn from each other’s experiences and help each other make incredible strides in controlling symptoms, slowing disease progression, improving how they feel and what they can personally accomplish on a daily basis.

IHC Nurse Practitioners offer clinical support and teaching (e.g., diabetic diet and foot care) in group settings.

Contact Kathleen Samways at or (508) 627-5797 ext. 114 to learn more.

Substance Abuse Treatment & Counseling

Accessing substance use services can be daunting. Island Health Care uses the latest evidence-based screening tools and assessments to help patients identify possible substance use issues. Our Nurse Practitioners and clinical staff are trained to provide empathetic and compassionate care. Our Mental Health / Substance Use Access Coordinator can provide confidential support, and help individuals and families navigate all available behavioral health resources.

IHC also offers services and supports relating to substance abuse and prevention to health center patients that include:

  • Use of Vivitrol, an opioid antagonist specifically designed to address addiction;

  • Behavioral health and substance counseling through a contract for integrated care with Island Counseling Center (ICC) at MV Community Services;

  • Collaboration with other substance abuse services including transition from detox and in-patient care;

  • Care management, patient advocacy and referral services;

  • Accepting new patients recently discharged from the hospital emergency room and acute care who need a medical home;

  • Timely access to three off-island facilities for a medically-supervised protocol of detoxification;

  • Peer Recovery Coaching is available for anyone interested in exploring and removing barriers to their own recovery path.

Call our Front Desk at (508) 939-9358 to learn how these appointments and services are arranged.

Access to Care

In addition to filling a gap in the island healthcare system for people with limited financial resources and health insurance, Island Health Care can serve as an entry point to other critical health-related resources, both on the island and off.

By partnering with the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the Vineyard Healthcare Access Program, and other local organizations on the island and Cape Cod, we can help quickly connect you with the provider or resource you need.

If you’re not sure where to start, just visit our Access Care page.

Together, we can create a unique and effective healthcare solution for our unique island home.