PeaceHealth Peace Harbor (PHPH) Medical Center and the City of Florence hosted a third Community Town Hall at the Florence Events Center on Sept. 13.
Two presentations, at 7 a.m. and noon, gave information and updates from PeaceHealth administrators on efforts to respond to a critical shortage of primary care physicians available to their clients.
“When we started the forums, it was in reaction to several care providers and one general surgeon that left the community all about the same time, four of which were primary care physicians,” said Peace Harbor Chief Administrative Officer Rick Yecny.
At the time, up to 6,000 PeaceHealth patients were without providers in Western Lane County.
“To communicate better with the community what our plans were and to give assurances that we had a plan to address the crisis, which is a national problem, we decided to have the forums,” Yecny said.
More than 600 people attended the first Town Hall, held just about a year ago.
According to Yecny, there is a growing need for physicians nationwide. This trend is expected to continue into the future, with a resulting shortage of 20,000 physicians by 2020.
In light of that data, Yecny said he thinks Peace Harbor has had good success in recruiting staff members, adding 13 new providers since January 2016, and dropping the number of clients without physicians from 6,000 to about 2,000.
Most of those without physicians will have the opportunity to select one by year’s end.
Additionally, OB/GYN Dr. Yvonne Sculley will arrive this month and Family Practice/OB Physicians Dr. Justine Parker and Dr. Jacquline Serrano will be added to the mix in October.
“This third forum is to continue the update,” Yecny said. “We have found the process to be a great way for us to be able to communicate with the public that is interested in these topics.”
In addition to the positive news regarding staff recruitment, Peace Harbor has secured funding for three successful “Community Health” programs.
Yecny is committed to the idea of better health for all, and believes that including different health practitioners into the options available to patients is a benefit.
One of the ongoing programs that is financially supported by PHPH is the Points of Grace Acupuncture program at The Wellspring Clinic.
“We have deemed that program to be a tremendous success and have refunded the program for another year and doubled the funding amount,” Yecny said. “We are underwriting the materials for the program, because this program links directly to access to primary care. We thought if people can get pain relief through an acupuncture clinic, they won’t be demanding visits from our already stretched primary care resources.”
The Points of Grace program started out treating approximately 25 patients every other week and now sees 50 or more people a week. The program has treated more than 1,000 patients since its inception.
These are patients that PHPH does not have to schedule or treat, freeing up those appointment times for other patients.
The second Community Health program is a new initiative, the Community Paramedic program.
Yecny said Western Lane Ambulance District has begun the hiring process for a new community paramedic.
“Western Lane has put out a call for applications for the paramedic candidate position,” he said. “This position will be on the ambulance district’s payroll, but we will be funding the position, sort of like subcontracting, for two years.”
There is a decided benefit to having EMTs check on recently released patients, according to Yecny, some of whom will need to be readmitted, due to lack of attention or support at home.
EMTs in the Community Paramedic program are medically and technically trained. They will be able to do wound care and be a liaison with patients.
“This will allow us to more closely monitor patients’ conditions, so if we need to add some additional services, we will be able to do that,” Yecny said.
The third Community Health program is a palliative care program, overseen by Dr. Stephen S. Kerner.
Kerner specializes in hospice and palliative medicine. He is currently working with local assisted living facilities to minimize patient disruption.
Kerner achieves this goal by attending to elderly patients at their facility, rather than transporting them to a hospital for non-surgical, non-emergency treatments and check-ups. He has been providing in-home services on a limited basis, but will now be working fulltime on this effort.
“Palliative care is for our most frail and elderly patients, and this program assists them with medical directives and working with the family on end of life issues,” Yency said. “Since Dr. Kerner has been participating in the program, we have seen visits to the Emergency Department drop by 40 percent from those facilities and a 25 percent drop in inpatient admissions.”
Yecny believes the Community Health programs are part of an overall strategy to reduce stress on his organization’s provider resources, but also as a way of increasing the options and overall well being of residents and visitors to Florence.
“That’s the benefit of Community Care — providing more access to care to the community. It doesn’t have to be us,” Yecny said. “We can partner with others and make them more successful in their programs and provide more access to care for all of our clients.”