Bridging the Health Gap

In an age where technology and busy lives are disconnecting people, hospitals are trying to bring back the intimacy of the doctor/patient relationships with their primary care centers.

“We are trying to be a partner with the community and our primary care centers is one way of expanding that partnership,” said Director of Community and Public Relations for St. Mary’s Hospital Jerri Cortese.

St. Mary’s has nine primary care sites, as well as specialty care centers and multi-purpose centers.

Nathan Littauer has nine primary care centers and is opening another this spring in Fonda.

“Each are different depending on the location and the community they serve,” said Carla Kolbe, spokeswoman for Nathan Littauer. “They become your regional health center – when you go in for your annual, everything can be done right on site.”

Each center has a site manager and anywhere from a handful of employees to almost 40.

Some of the centers can provide total primary care from the doctor visit, to laboratory work, to x-rays and ultra-sounds.

“Each of ours is different, for example, Mayfield is very small, while Perth has everything in one, convenient location,” said Kolbe. “When you come in for your annual, you can get everything done here.”

St. Mary’s Director of Primary Care Centers Maureen Rhodes said their primary care centers aim to help keep the public healthy and to educate them on preventative care.

“We want to be their neighborhood primary care provider where they walk to us, ride the bus, or have an easy drive,” said Rhodes, noting that in March, 8,300 patients utilized St. Mary’s primary care and urgent care centers.

Patrice McMahon, vice president of primary/specialty care services at Nathan Littauer, said the centers are beneficial for everyone involved.

“It is better for the hospitals and better for the patients,” said McMahon. “We saw so many patients going to the emergency rooms when they should be seeing their primary care physicians because they know you better.”

She said Nathan Littauer saw a need for the primary care centers a few years ago.

“Nathan Littauer saw many physicians in the private practice retiring and no one was replacing them,” said McMahon.

For example, she said, the hospital saw a need in Perth. That resulted in Littauer opening the Perth-Broadalbin Primary Care Center.

“We saw a [need] in the Perth area and placed that there and they were so busy that after two years, we expanded that center,” said McMahon.

Both hospitals also offer navigator services for patients, with or without insurance.

“Our [emergency room] navigator sees 100 patients a month and he helps them establish [a relationship] with a doctor if they don’t have one or get back in to see their doctor if they haven’t been in a while. He helps them with transportation issues or with seeing what insurance they may be eligible for [through the Affordable Health Care Act,]” said Rhodes. “We here not to just provide care, but to improve the overall quality of health of the community. I think our focus in primary care and urgent care is providing the services to staying healthy and preventing disease.”

Cortese said the state has required hospitals to steer away from unnecessary hospitalization and to help residents live healthier lives and engage in preventative care.

“One of the objectives is to keep someone from being re-admitted and to seek preventative care,” said Cortese.

She noted the trend toward primary care centers started in the 1980s.

“The extent of out-patient services that can do the follow-up care started with the insurance companies in the 1980s,” said Cortese. “And the fact that most people don’t want to be in the hospital.”

Rhodes added one of the benefits of their primary care centers is the easy ability for all their health care providers, whether a doctor in the hospital or one at the care centers, to communicate and access, securely, patients medical histories.

“We have hospitalists with specialized care that communicate with the primary care providers for seamless care of the patients,” added Cortese. “Notes, records and communications are all securely shared. It has taken a while for people to get used to the system, but we have managed to bridge that gap.”

McMahon said Nathan Littauer also works to meet the needs of their patients.

“I truly believe in our model,” said McMahon. “With our primary and speciality care network we can cover everyone and all their needs. The patients do not have to leave our area for their [medical] needs.”

She said several of the centers have weekend and later hours in order to accommodate patients.

“They are open late in Mayfield and open on Saturday and Sunday at the Gloversville [center,” said McMahon. “People like the convenience of having their annual on a Saturday morning when they don’t have to go to work.”

She added some of their rural centers even have prescription services available.

“At our Speculator and Caroga Lake centers we can even meet their prescription needs,” said McMahon. “They can bring in their prescription, we can get it filled and they can pick it up.”

She added the hospital is always looking to improve the services available.

“I am pretty proud of the work we do,” said McMahon.