As of Monday, March 21, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (MVH) took over the role of providing emergency behavioral health services from Marths’ Vineyard Community Services (MVCS), which was having challenges providing the services, according to a press release.

Both the hospital and M.V. Community Services vowed there would be no interruption of services to patients on the Island.

Emergency behavioral services are typically individuals with suicidal ideation, mental health issues, and sometimes substance use, Denise Schepici, CEO and president of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, told The Times in a phone conversation about the transition. Typically, someone who is suicidal is taken to the emergency room, and then works with MVCS and Bay Cove to find care off-Island, Schepici said, so this takes MVCS out of the middle.

According to the release, MVCS has worked with subcontractor Bay Cove Human Services to provide emergency services to Islanders. 

“Our decision reflects a long period of assessment, deliberation, and planning,” Beth Folcarelli, CEO of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, said in the release. “For many years, staffing MVCS’ Emergency Services seriously challenged the Island Counseling Center [ICC]. When I joined the agency in August 2020, this particular issue was immediately placed before me by the staff. Counselors and other clinicians shared how existing, persistent personnel shortages in Emergency Services had worsened with the pandemic. With limited clinicians coming on board, and existing clinicians leaving due to the growing strain, our Island Counseling Center needed help. Wait lists grew as staff reduced or eliminated hours. This decision reflects a long and difficult year. I am grateful to the heroic staff who stayed the course, and am optimistic that with refocused effort, we can restore ICC to its prepandemic vibrancy.”

According to the release, by having the hospital provide emergency services, MVCS can reinvest in Island Counseling Center. “Our aim is to restore enhanced urgent care, which provides same-day preventive services to child and adult Islanders in need; to open our Clinical Residency Program in the spring, which is targeted to bring five new clinicians to the center; and to rebuild our child and family behavioral health program, presently underway in conjunction with our partners at Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools,” Jennifer Vogel, LICSW, director of the Island Counseling Center at MVCS, said in the release.

As Bay Cove and MVCS transition Emergency Services to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the organizations will continue their collaborative work to ensure a smooth, safe, and effective transition for Islanders, the release states. Effective March 21, the new number for 24-hour mental health emergencies is 1-833-BAYCOVE (1-833-229-2683).

“We know firsthand through our emergency room that there is an urgent need to provide behavioral health care, especially through the Emergency Services program,” Schepici said in the release. “We will continue to collaborate with all our health partners to find solutions to meet the needs of our community.”

In a follow-up conversation, Schepici said last year there were 413 cases of emergency behavioral health services, an average of more than one a day. “It is a pretty significant issue,” she said. The shortage of beds for mental health issues can pose a problem for the hospital, particularly during the busy summer season, Schepici said.

Bill Sprague, president & CEO of Bay Cove Human Services, said in the release that the services are critically important to the people on the Island. “Due to the impact of the pandemic, as well as a severe shortage of healthcare workers both locally and regionally, this is a challenging time for all healthcare providers,” Sprague said in the release. “We are grateful to MVH for stepping up, and are committed to working in partnership with them, first responders, and the community to meet the needs of Islanders experiencing behavioral health crises.”

Schepici said it’s important that Islanders know there are services for those in crisis. “You don’t want people to think there are no services,” she said. “We’re continuing as a safety net for the Island.”