“It’s very rewarding,” said Melissa Gooley, nurse manager at Hudson Headwaters, Champlain Family Health, as we toured the gleaming medical center at 828 State Route 11. “I began my career at North Country Family Health in 2001,” she continued. “Over time, we realized the growing needs of this community—which I consider my family.” Several years ago, Dr. Maurice Racine, head physician at North Country Family Health, invited Cathy Johnson, health center manager, and me to accompany him to tour other facilities, do research, and take the necessary steps to make this dream happen. It took years and a lot of work to accomplish his vision, but here we are. In this center, we have 24 primary care examination rooms as opposed to the 10 we had at North Country Family Health, and now we’re part of a network of services. We’re continuing to provide high-quality care to our existing patients, and welcoming many new ones, with more resources available.”
Unveiled on July 10, 2017, Hudson Headwaters, Champlain Family Health has welcomed over 6,100 patients living in a service area that includes not only Champlain, but Altona, Chazy, Mooers, Rouses Point, and West Chazy—a 500 square-mile area with approximately 17,000 residents. Replacing the long-standing and reliable but increasingly overcrowded North Country Family Health, Hudson Headwaters is able to provide outstanding, innovative, and state-of-the-art care through 22,000 patient visits each year, and offer better access and more services, including all-important preventative health care, to a grateful rural community.
“Champlain is the fastest growing health center in our network,” said Dr. Tucker Slingerland, CEO, from Hudson Headwaters’ offices in Queensbury. “In addition to the patients who came over from North Country Family Health, a significant number of new patients arrive each week. The Champlain center offers 12 advanced practice clinicians, and we recently added two licensed social workers and a podiatrist. We have plans to partner with CVPH and its family medicine residency program, and, in addition, CVPH will be leasing 2,600 feet of space in the Champlain facility to offer phlebotomy, x-ray, and ultrasound services,” explained Gooley.
Cathy Johnson, practice manager at North Country Medical Group since 2008, brought her well-honed management skills and knowledge of the community to Champlain Family Health. “The facility is more than any of us would have dreamed possible,” said Johnson. “We now have the ability to offer our patients, community, and staff access to the best healthcare services. We’re fortunate to have such a great team of professionals and providers here to meet the needs of our patients. I love getting to know the patients, hearing their stories, and being an advocate for them. The job, while challenging, is always evolving and rewarding.”
Two local community members, Celine Racine Paquette and Jane Sample, generously donated funds to build the spacious waiting room and an examining room, respectively. Paquette also serves on the board of directors for Hudson Headwaters, generously volunteering her time to represent the Champlain community.
Taking a Holistic Approach
Specifically, Hudson Headwaters, Champlain Family Health is a family practice that offers:
• Internal medicine/family medicine
• Pediatric and adolescent medicine
• Preventative medicine, physicals, immunizations, and cancer screening
• Women’s health services
• Minor surgery
• Lab tests
• Social work and behavioral health
• Sports medicine
• Osteopathic manipulation services
To aid in its holistic approach to care, and encourage teamwork and collaboration, the Champlain Family Health facility is organized into three “pods” where practitioners work as teams to address every aspect of a patient’s health. “The pods are like three mini health centers in one,” explained Gooley. “A team is comprised of a care manager, physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant, a social worker, and nurses. Working together, we can treat the whole patient, and also suggest preventative care, such as diabetes and cholesterol screening.”
As he eases into retirement, Dr. Racine has passed the head physician baton to Nicole Cerklewich, D.O., a doctor of family and osteopathic medicine.
Integrating Mental Health into Primary Care
Throughout history, mental health disorders were denied or stigmatized, and often treated separately from physical health. Over time, however, research has shown that anxiety and depression are common—so common that an estimated 20–26 percent of all people experience some type of mental health condition in any given year. Serious psychiatric illness only accounts for five–six percent of this total, leaving a significant number of people struggling with mild to moderate emotional issues.
“We have to respect the inter-relationship of physical health and mental health,” said David Alloy, Ph.D., director of behavioral health for Hudson Headwaters. “There are common relationships between depression and diabetes or cardiac disease. If we don’t respect the interrelational nature of physical health and mental health, we will miss opportunities to treat the whole person and provide care for all conditions.”
With two social workers currently on site and integrated into the staff at Champlain Family Health, practitioners can do what is called a “warm handoff” with patients who are currently being treated for physical conditions. For example, if a doctor notices that a patient is experiencing depression or anxiety along with a physical need, he or she can introduce a behavioral health consultant in the examining room to start a brief course of mental health care in collaboration with the doctor.
“When a patient presents with a severe psychiatric illness, we partner with Behavioral Health Services North and Clinton County Mental Health Addiction, and Services in the larger community,” explained Dr. Alloy. “Our services in no way replace the highly valuable care provided by the region’s mental health program. However, for people who have less severe mental health concerns, integrating mental health care with primary care improves access and can contribute to better overall health.”
Hudson Headwaters Champlain Family Health continues to grow services for its community. For example, Dr. Cerklewich is the medical director at Northeastern Clinton Central School, providing services such as game coverage, physicals, and medical guidance. In addition, the center offers point-of-care testing, vision and hearing screening, spirometry, and EKGs. In a groundbreaking, innovative step, they also have an interpreter computer service. This service allows patients who have a language barrier or who are hearing impaired to work with a live interpreter via a video link during their office visit. This new technology helps to ensure a better patient experience without a delay in appointment scheduling because of an interpreter’s unavailability.
Champlain Family Health currently employs 43 health professionals and is open six days a week, including Monday–Thursday evenings until 8 p.m. There is always a nurse available by telephone for consultation during the hours of operation and a provider on call after hours. While Champlain Family Health does not offer urgent care, they are able to accommodate same-day appointments via telephone. In order to welcome everyone, regardless of income, they offer a sliding fee program and prescription discounts. In addition, they partner with the Adirondack Health Institute to help patients navigate sometimes complicated insurance policies and regulations.
Optimism and services are the focus of the providers at Hudson Headwaters Champlain Family Health as they continue to respond to the emotional and physical health of the people in the greater Champlain community.