Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 41 Issue 22 • Nov 18, 2011 -
Jan 2012, now in our 41th season

The Heart of Island Care

by Sarah Teach

Back in 1911, island doctor Dr. John S. Grouard had a vision for transforming health care on Nantucket.  The names of 20 islanders were inscribed upon the certificate of incorporation of the Nantucket Cottage Hospital.  The group’s intentions were expressed by Dr. Grouard with his statement, “The increasingly higher value placed on human life is an infallible indication of higher civilization. To conserve human life on this isolated island, it is imperative that the conditions under which medicine and surgery are practiced must be superseded by modern ones.”  Nothing new is born without hard labor, and NCH was no different.  Nonetheless, the perseverance of the 20 visionary Nantucketers paid off, their legacy remaining in the form of excellent health care at our hospital.

I ask several hospital authorities what they view as NCH’s top three milestones since incorporation.  Bill Ferrall, Communications Officer, begins by noting that August 1914 marked the admittance of the hospital’s very first inpatient, “…a lady from one of the guest houses,” says Ferrall.  Dr. Margot Hartmann, President and CEO, attests to the significance of the 1957 move from the original hospital location on West Chester Street to the current one at 57 Prospect Street.  And thirdly, Ferrall and Hartmann both mention that hitting 100 years has proven to be a huge notch in NCH’s belt.  Hartmann calls 2011 a time when NCH is “…coming to terms with [contemporary] reality and working to achieve sustainability.”

Born at NCH
Photo by Cary Hazlegrove. Nantucketers Born at Nantucket Cottage Hospital...
When NCH asked Nantucketers born at Nantucket Cottage Hospital to join us in July for a “natives” photo shoot, more than 250 came to pose, including 4 generations of the Greider and McLaughlin families.  Hoisted aloft by a Nantucket Fire Department hook-and-ladder truck, photographer Cary Hazlegrove captured the portrait.
Click to view larger version.

In planning for the future, the need for a new hospital building has become evident.  Ferrall explains, “At 54 years old, [the current building] is structurally sound, but it’s not up to snuff in terms of modern technology. The plumbing, heating, wiring ... was designed for the technology of 54 years ago. But now, medicine has been refined; it’s often sophisticated, and we need a building that can handle such demands.”  Hartmann verifies that the annual savings netted by an up-to-date building could reach past one million dollars due to energy savings alone.  Ferrall continues, “In the 20 years I’ve been on Nantucket, we’ve gotten a new Whaling Museum, practically a new library with all the renovations there, and a new police station. Isn’t it time we had a new hospital?”

Of course, a new building isn’t free, and hospital leaders must place significant focus upon maintaining a sustainable business model. As an organization that serves a population that changes drastically throughout the year, the hospital feels the pains of Nantucket’s seasonality like any other island business. The difference is that NCH can’t just close during slow times when the money isn’t pouring in.  There are basic demands that must be met every day of the year, whether the need should appear in the heat of lucrative July or during the financially frozen February.  But NCH never allows a lack of adequate income to compromise quality of care.  In fact, Hartmann expresses a goal to better serve Nantucketers, with a plan to back it up.

Starting in January 2012, NCH will hold a series of three or four public community forums as a way to get feedback from Nantucketers.  On January 24, Hartmann will lead the first community forum.  She says, “As we move on to the next 100 years, we need to know what the community needs us to be. And in order to do that, we have to be in dialogue with community, hear their concerns, hear what we’re doing right and what they’d like us to do differently.”  Forum attendees should come prepared to for an hour of open Q and A.  For details on the forum series, stay tuned to the online events calendars of NCH and

Hartmann sheds some light on the impact of NCH’s recent affiliation with Mass General. She emphasizes that money is not going from NCH to Mass General, and says, “If anything, it’s the other way around!” Ferrall also helps to clarify the relationship, saying, “We are able to use their medical resources, and some of their administrative ones. We’ve also started working with telemedicine. It sounds a lot more complicated than it is; it’s really just glorified Skype.  Island doctors are able to confer with specialists in Boston. Say we have a difficult pediatrics case here. With telemedicine, that child has access to some of the best doctors in the world. Also, being under the Mass General umbrella has boosted our ability to get reimbursement.”

Finally, I ask, “One hundred years into the future, what do you hope will be the same as it was 100 years ago?” Ferrall responds without a moment’s pause, “The level of intimacy and caring that we have here. After 100 years of taking care of family, friends, and neighbors, this hospital needs to be more than just a landing pad when the island is fogged in.”  Hartmann answers similarly, “The essence of local island caring. As with most things on Nantucket, what works out here proves to be a very customized answer to typical puzzles that many communities must address. There’s no cookie-cutter answer for what works on the island.  So I’d say my hope is that NCH will still be bringing the best of the mainland’s medical care to patients while maintaining ‘island quality.’”

Everybody knows that when you turn 100, you get to party all year long. The Hospital has done just that, having spent 2011 paying constant tribute to their centennial year motto: “Honor the past, celebrate the future.” Certainly Dr. Grouard and the ambitious Nantucketers of 1911 would be proud of what the Nantucket Cottage Hospital has blossomed into today.


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