By Rachel Dutil | Photo by Jessica McCafferty
Issue: October 2022
The waiting room at North Wind Primary Care’s office on Margaret Street in Plattsburgh showcases an array of skiing and sailing memorabilia – most of which was given to Dr. Stephen Hausrath by his patients. The physician built lasting relationships with the people he cared for and created a medical office environment that felt comfortable for everyone.
Dr. Hausrath and his wife, Carla, moved to Plattsburgh in 1999 so they could enjoy his favorite hobbies — skiing in the winter and sailing in the summer. Within a few years of their arrival, the couple had opened a private medical practice where Dr. Hausrath worked as a primary care doctor and Carla served as the practice’s registered nurse. The doctor also worked part time at the local medical center as an infectious disease consultant. Once their four children were in school, Carla went back to school to earn her Master’s degree as a nurse practitioner.
The practice, originally called Stephen Hausrath, MD, included Dr. Hausrath, Carla and a second nurse practitioner Lynn Schneider. It operated as a sole proprietorship under his medical license. In 2015 the Hausraths bought the former Rainbow Pediatrics offices and moved to the Route 9 North location in Plattsburgh.
“Over the years we expanded our patient base and staff and felt good about our ability to service the health care needs of adults in the North Country. We were proud of how far we had come from a tiny two exam room office,” Carla explained.
Adapting to Change
“The challenges of the pandemic on our business were vast,” Carla Hausrath offered. “We were reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on our patients – screenings, remote access visits and the search for PPE hit us hard.” Then in August 2020, Dr. Hausrath was diagnosed with a terminal illness. After his diagnosis, he was unable to work, leaving the two nurse practitioners to manage the patient volume. Carla admitted that was overwhelming for her and Schneider. “And this was on top of facing the care and ultimate death of my husband.” In the medical field, primary care offices can be owned by physicians or by nurse practitioners, but not those two different licenses combined. Because the business was set up as a sole proprietor under Dr. Hausrath, the business would cease to exist once he passed away. Carla was faced with the decision of how best to proceed. “I did not want to lose my husband, my work and my work family in the same year,” she said. Although she could have opted to take over ownership of the business herself, she made the choice to seek a physician to join the practice. “I feel an office with a physician along with others of advanced degrees is a model that provides the best options for patient care,” she explained. Her idea was sound, but finding a physician to bring into the business proved challenging.
Before his death, Dr. Hausrath asked Dr. Robert Benak to take a leave from his work at CVPH to help the office while they searched for another physician. Dr. Benak worked full-time for eight months and now is in the office part-time. He currently owns the practice while Carla owns a holding company that owns the building and its contents. The name was changed to North Wind Primary Care under the new ownership.
The biggest part of a medical practice is dealing with health insurance,” Carla noted. Insurance issues added to the stress of the business transition. Insurance companies canceled the contract with Dr. Hausrath and, although the new business had applied to take over his contract, some insurance companies took up to six months to recognize the new business. Many patients received letters from their insurance companies indicating they were no longer covered for their primary care. Some were even advised by their health insurance company to transfer their care to another practice. Those challenges made the transition exceedingly difficult, but Carla credits her staff for getting through that period.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States could see a shortage of up to 48,000 physicians across the country by 2034. Rural areas like the North Country will likely feel this issue more acutely than urban areas which can be more attractive to medical professionals. Nurse practitioners are educated at a Master’s or post-Master’s level for specific clinical roles. They can diagnose, treat and manage health conditions. Many nurse practitioners work as part of a healthcare team, like the model that is employed at North Wind Primary Care.
Physicians are educated and trained differently than nurse practitioners and Carla values the experience and knowledge a physician brings to patient care. “I go to them for assistance and for a higher level of understanding,” she said. She believes that the healthcare team is a sound model for patient care.
There is a lot of emphasis in primary care on screening and prevention. As you age, different screenings and preventative health measures become part of your care. “Finding things earlier and treating things earlier is an important part of primary care,” Carla noted. “In primary care, it is important for providers
to consider all aspects of the patient,” she explained. “I really like that feeling of making a difference in people’s lives. The best feeling I get is when a patient tells me they feel better because they came in to talk with me.”
Earlier this year North Wind Primary Care hired a third nurse practitioner and is currently in talks with a local MD to join the staff. “Hannah Constanty is interested in being a primary care provider in this community for the long term. She is smart, nice, works hard, and is a real asset to our practice,” Carla
emphasized. With the increased number of providers, the practice is now accepting new patients.
Making a Difference
North Wind Primary Care’s slogan is “Community Care by Community Providers.” The staff all live locally, are committed to the North Country and value the quality of life and quality of care here. Many staff members have community involvement outside of the office. As a gift to staff on the one-year anniversary of the new practice, all staff received an annual paid day off to use for community service “to better help us care for the community as well as our patients,” Carla explained.
In addition to regular office visits and telemedicine, North Wind Primary Care also offers home visits for patients who are homebound. Carla acknowledged that home visits are more time consuming, but emphasized they provide a real service. She explained that for some patients, the process of leaving home
and getting transported to the office is traumatic and stressful and they arrive with elevated blood pressure, possibly in pain and often feeling anxious. “To see them at home is so much easier. You understand better how they are doing.”
Fostering a relationship with the local branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has been a rewarding endeavor for Carla and her team. After North Wind Primary Care hosted a vaccine clinic for patients, they had leftover doses so they reached out to organizations that might have underserved
populations, NAMI was among them. The relationship has grown from there. “They call us if they have a need. If they have someone who needs treatment before they can get in with their mental health provider, we’ve provided that. As a team, it really feels good to be able to help them out and provide that service to the community,” Carla Hausrath concluded.
North Wind Primary Care
459 Margaret St.