CHESTERTOWN IN WARREN COUNTY is like most charming Adirondack small towns—it’s located in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nature and far away from its closest neighbors. Most folks are seasonal residents, resulting in limited access to grocery stores and other amenities. Considering the prevalence of vacation and second homes throughout the region, access to medical care was very limited or non-existent. That changed when Dr. John Rugge came to town in 1974 and opened a clinic with the mission to improve access to healthcare for all in the surrounding area.
Over the next seven years, Hudson Headwaters Health Network (HHHN) expanded to include three other locations in the southern Adirondacks—Warrensburg, Indian Lake and North Creek. Opening these clinics were grassroots campaigns where HHHN provided the medical care and the community provided the space.
Guilds—composed of local women—held bake sales to raise funds and stuffed envelopes asking for donations for the capital needed to open the new clinics. Once a building was acquired, the guilds helped paint and decorate the facilities to make them a source of community pride.
In 1981, the four clinics incorporated to become a nonprofit and a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) as part of a program that provides financial support in medically underserved areas. Over the next forty years, Hudson Headwaters Health Network continued an expansion that now operates 21 facilities including locations in Champlain, opened in 2012, and Plattsburgh, opened in 2019.
As of 2021, HHHN covers 7,200 square miles, serves over 100,000 patients, provides over 24 services, and employs over 900 people. The group serves all of Warren County, and parts of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Saratoga, and Washington Counties. It is often the sole provider in these rural areas.
HHHN has come a long way from its humble beginnings. In 1982, HHHN recorded 31,803 visits with a total of 11,834 patients. In 2020, it cared for over 1,200 people a day, for a total of 425,000 patients. According to CEO Tucker Slingerland, HHHN “exists to help people make the most out of their lives. It exists to serve others. Doing so requires creativity, perseverance and resourcefulness.”
HHHN Through the Years
“The Hudson Headwaters mission has remained the same throughout: To provide the best health care, and access to that care, for everyone in our communities,” said founder Dr. Rugge. Access for all, regardless of income or insurance, and expanding access to medical care in rural communities, has remained at the forefront over the years. In the beginning, nearly 40% of HHHN’s patients were uninsured.
In addition to expanding throughout the North Country, HHHN added various services throughout the years. Starting in 1982, it launched a series of programs for health promotion and disease prevention including hypertension screenings, prenatal care, Lamaze training, nutritional counseling, diabetes education, and support groups for parents of disabled children. To help avoid unnecessary emergency visits, the Network opened the Health Center at Northcare in Glens Falls as an Extended Hours Facility in1987.
In 1988, the Warrensburg Health Center began to offer both dental care and mammography services. Today, HHHN provides over 24 services including Primary Care, Urgent Care, Behavioral Health, Pediatrics, Women’s Health, Imaging and X-Ray, Phlebotomy, Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, and Senior Care/Geriatrics.
In its 40th year, HHHN is still adding new programs. The Network recently announced its new Pathways program, an approach to long-term care and supportive care services, currently available in the Southern Adirondack region with plans to expand north. This new approach is in response to the rapidly growing aging population in our region and will assist patients and their families to choose the best quality care from home-based care to nursing home care.
The Network has received an innovation grant to help address domestic violence in our communities by developing resources that will be available in exam rooms for providers and nurses to give to patients. HHHN also recently launched a Food Farmacy program, a partnership with Comfort Food Community which provides local produce to patients with chronic conditions.
In honor of HHHN’s mission to provide care to everyone in the communities it serves, the Network recently developed a Culturally Appropriate and Responsive Education and Services (CARES), a Task Force for Health Equity in response to persistent and systemic racial and social inequalities brought to light by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our renewed commitment to building an inclusive health care network is crucial to expanding accessibility and improving quality, the cornerstones of our mission. As we enter our 40th year, we will honor our legacy by continuing to promote a culture of care that is truly for everyone,” Slingerland observed. Since the task force was formed, HHHN has hired a new diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) manager, and led internal campaigns to encourage all staff members to be vaccinated. In addition, it launched a blood donor incentive program that collected a total of 350 units—120% above its goal.
HHHN During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Throughout the pandemic, HHHN made headlines for the medical care it provided from COVID-19 rapid tests to vaccines. As of April 2021, it has administered over 26,000 vaccinations and tested over 87,000 patients. This was all made possible by the 110 volunteers who helped with early vaccination clinics and another 25 who helped cover more than 2,500 vaccine-related calls to ease the health center call volume.
HHHN shifted to provide telehealth services due to the pandemic. At the peak of the outbreak, it had more than 2,500 telehealth appointments a week—approximately 60% of its visits. Providing telehealth services was costly, requiring HHHN to spent millions of dollars to improve its IT infrastructure, buy necessary telecommunications equipment, provide training to providers and staff, and install a new digital portal to ensure privacy. Going forward it hopes to make telehealth services permanent in an effort to make health care more accessible to those who live in remote regions or lack transportation.
HHHN in the Future
In 2021, HHHN started an exciting new venture with the introduction of the Mobile Health Clinic. “It is fitting that at the beginning of Hudson Headwaters’ 40th year, we move forward with this innovative care delivery model, “CEO Slingerland stated. “The same high-quality care that communities have come to expect at our health centers is now on wheels.”
The first mobile health care unit will serve locations in Warren and Washington Counties, with hopes of serving the central and northern Adirondacks in spring 2022. The mobile unit is a 40-foot vehicle with two exam rooms, a registration area, point-of-care testing area, a lab draw station, and restrooms. It will be staffed by a family nurse practitioner, a registered nurse and a medical assistant.
After 40 years of dedication to providing health care in underserved communities, it is no wonder that HHHN is recognized by federal authorities and state agencies as a trailblazer in rural health care. The introduction of its mobile health unit, paired with the Network’s flexibility and adaptability during a public health crisis, exemplifies why it is viewed as a model for rural healthcare, making #FortyForward a fitting tagline for its anniversary celebration.
Hudson Headwaters Health Network
87 Plaza Boulevard
Plattsburgh, NY 12901
Additional HHHN locations throughout Northeastern New York