NMC Commentary

Is there an answer to the lack of access to Primary Care?

Yes. We certainly hope so. That being said it is not an easy one to answer because the problem is bigger than us. We are so pleased to be welcoming five new Primary Care physicians and advance practice providers to better meet our community’s needs. There is a well-documented national shortage of physicians that contributes to access challenges and impacts much of Vermont. Recently, a patient of one of our Primary Care practices voiced frustration over challenges getting an appointment. I definitely hear his frustrations and appreciate his perspective. Our team has reached out to him directly and is meeting with him. As our community members I want you all to know the answer to this question. Our goal is to provide the best access to care.

The shortage is serious. The prominent study of the issue was released in 2016 by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the report on it says “under every combination of scenarios modeled, the United States will face a shortage of physicians over the next decade.” AAMC President Darrell Kirch, MD., says “These updated projections confirm that the physician shortage is real, it’s significant.” The report identifies that the situation is also getting worse at the national level, estimating “a shortfall of between 14,900 and 35,600 primary care physicians” by 2025. Here in Vermont, Champlain Valley Area Health Education Center (CVAHEC) produced the Vermont Primary Care Practitioner Workforce 2016 Snapshot which finds “a statewide workforce shortage in adult primary care persists … during the three-year period of 2013 to 2016, the number of primary care practitioners grew; however, the shortage in adult primary care practitioners continued statewide.” Shortages are identified in eight of Vermont’s fourteen counties, including Franklin, Grand Isle, and Chittenden Counties.

Our community is fortunate to be served by dedicated Primary Care physicians and advanced practice providers in private practices, in NOTCH practices, and in NMC’s practices. Vacancies within any of the practices can cause access issues even as the existing team works long and hard to meet the need. I am pleased to announce NMC is about to fill many vacancies. Allison Mack, a board certified nurse practitioner, has just started at Northwestern Georgia Health Center. Dr. Erica Monfred is scheduled to start at Northwestern Primary Care on September 7. Dr. Chester Areson will be joining Northwestern Georgia Health Center on September 18. Dr. Judy Fingergut will be starting October 9 and working in both practices. Dr. Leah Hillier will be joining Northwestern Primary Care and Northwestern Orthopedics in November. It is so exciting to have these five joining our Medical Staff over the coming months as they will allow for a significant improvement in access to timely appointments.

Please do not hesitate to call your Primary Care provider’s office to be seen. Every practice in the community strives to meet their patients’ needs and will do their best to make that happen for you. It is our goal to be able to offer same-day availability within each of our Primary Care practices for timely needs though specific providers’ daily schedules may approach being essentially full on certain days. Our patient’s recent letter was a strong reminder for us of the importance of flexibility and creativity in our efforts to see patients in a timely manner. That message has been received and we are improving our approach to meet the needs of our community. When you need us we want to be there for you.

As NMC has emphasized through our “Right Care, Right Place” communication, having an ongoing close relationship with a Primary Care provider is the foundation of each person’s health care. In some instances when Primary Care is not available at a time that is convenient for the patient, many have found Northwestern Urgent Care (located on NMC’s Campus on Fairfield Street in St. Albans and on Route 7 in Georgia) to be a very helpful complement to their Primary Care although insurance coverages often require a higher co-pay for this convenient care.

Access to Primary Care is very important for each individual in our community. It is one of the driving factors within the NMC strategic plan. It drives our recruitment and retention efforts and is why we are excited to bring Primary Care to expanded, flexible, efficient new space at the front of campus this Fall. I thank our patient for reaching out with his concerns, as it provided us with pause and reflection on the need to improve our current approach as we finalize these longer-term improvements. Sharing perspectives and opportunities for improvement is how we as a community can remain united and strong as we press forward to ensuring the best access to care locally. I welcome your feedback always. I am personally committed to improve access to care to best serve this community.

— Jill Berry Bowen, NMC’s Chief Executive Officer