From The Charlotte News, by Lynn Monty:
Whether it’s a nasty zebra mussel gash or a sudden acute illness, same-day appointments for urgent care are always available for patients at the Charlotte Family Health Center. Dr. Andrea Regan is taking measures to ensure they always will be as she and her partner, Dr. Gordon Gieg, merge their small independent community practice with the Evergreen Family Health, a larger independent practice in Williston.
Currently the Charlotte Family Health Center (CFHC) staff includes two physicians, one physician’s assistant and one licensed practical nurse, in addition to four support staff. Evergreen has five physicians, four physician assistants, two nurse practitioners and a dedicated clinical and administrative staff of about 35.
Dr. Regan and Dr. Mike Johnson, Evergreen’s managing partner, have been close colleagues since their careers began. They completed their residencies together at UVM Medical Center. The two clinics joined forces on Oct. 23 in an effort to continue to provide less expensive and more personal medical care, including how much time they can spend with their patients.
As vulnerable private practices across the nation get bought out by large medical centers, patient care becomes much more expensive and far less personal, Regan said. “We are fighting against that tide,” she said. “So we are combining forces to keep that mission strong.”
Johnson said their goals for this merger are “first, to provide the best possible medical care to patients, and second, to be a good place to work.” They are also fighting to prevent their own burnout as primary care doctors. Regan said fewer young doctors are practicing primary medicine in Vermont, and almost 30 percent of the primary care doctors in the state are over 60.
The Charlotte Family Health Center was originally founded in 1975 by Doctors Richard “Bunky” Bernstein and Lee Weisman, both now retired. Dr. Regan joined the practice in 2008 and Dr. Gieg in 2012. Because of its small size, the practice has survived by maintaining low overhead costs, which means that much of the administrative work—including ensuring compliance with health insurance and occupational safety regulations, and battling with electronic medical records software—falls on the two doctors. Another downside of such a small practice is that any accident, something as basic as one of the doctors fracturing a wrist, could jeopardize the practice financially, Regan said.
“All of these things are exhausting,” Regan said. “And when I noticed all independent clinics are fighting the same battle, I started thinking about how we should be sharing these administrative tasks.”