Caught in a bind

Lewis County Hospital, Lowville. Watertown Daily Times

LOWVILLE — After a gap of just over two months, the Lewis County Health System has signed a lease agreement with a practice in Syracuse to reopen the dermatology clinic at the beginning of July.

Empire Dermatology, led by Dr. Brian Raphael, will be opening its clinic at the health center on July 7. The clinic will only be open on Mondays at first, when patients will be seen by one of the Empire’s two physician assistants with additional support as needed through technology.

“What’s really neat about their model,” said Health Center Chief Executive Officer Gerald R. Cayer during the Thursday hospital board meeting when the agreement was announced. “For those patients that require physician engagement or interaction, through telemedicine, the doctor will join the visit.”

The goal is to eventually have a doctor at the clinic once monthly, however, Mr. Cayer said the final details are still in the works. Ultimately, he said demand will drive how the clinic proceeds.

Chief Medical Officer of Employed Medical Practices Dr. Sean Harney said that simple procedures like biopsies will be performed at the Health Center while more complicated surgeries will be done in Syracuse.

“I imagine that the procedural involvement will get as many or more procedures done with this practice here than what was going on with the previous practice,” Mr. Harney said, “I believe all parties will be pleasantly surprised with the volume we will have.”

Lewis County Dermatology was closed as of March 20 when the two physician assistants who ran the clinic, Amy L. Werchinski and Erin K. Bryant, resigned in late February to move on to other ventures.

Since that time, the clinic space, which has access to its own entrance, was used for the COVID-19 Call-in Clinic until last week. That clinic moved to the drive-up site near the Emergency Room entrance of the hospital that was temporarily used for drive-up blood draws and obstetric wellness checks during the heart of the epidemic crisis.

Those services are now available from their traditional locations: in the laboratory and the OB/GYN clinic, respectively, inside the North State Street facility.

“Virtual Visits” with primary care, orthopedic, general surgery and women’s health providers that also evolved out of the need to provide patients with opportunities to see their doctors in a COVID-free environment, will continue into the future.

“While technology can never replace the human touch,” said Chief Operating Officer Michele Prince when the service was formally introduced on April 22. “If you have a non-emergency illness, you can connect virtually to a medical provider without leaving your home.”

Robert Uttendorfsky, director of information systems, told the board that the Health System was able to get that service up and running within two weeks and was given a six-month trial by Meditech, the Health System’s main tech resource. He said they plan to buy the technology after the trial period is over, continuing virtual visits into the foreseeable future.

The telemedicine visits are scheduled and held via the Health System’s “patient portal” on its website from a computer with internet access or smart phone.

A number of new physicians will also join the Lewis County system in the coming months, providing growth in service opportunities.

Dr. Frederick L. Dutton of Syracuse, and Dr. Kathy Galla-Elizeus of Pennsylvania will be joining the obstetrics and gynecology clinic at the hospital in August and September, respectively, and nurse practitioner Barbara Anderson will be teaming up with Dr. John Wat at the family practice, also on the Health System’s main campus.

With Dr. Shirley Tuttle-Malone taking over weekly visits to the nursing home from Dr. Daniel Root, who retired at the end of last year, Dr. Svetlana Lazaro-Shaw will be seeing patients at the Beaver River Health Center one day every month, “easing into” the practice, Mr. Cayer said.

Dr. Lazaro-Shaw has a family medicine practice on Fort Drum and is expected to retire in five or six years and set up a new off-base practice.

Dr. Harney said that while it may seem odd to have a doctor take patients only one day in a month, it is a new approach to recruiting that will allow the practitioner and the existing practice to get a feel for each other.

New approaches to providing services and recruiting are the new norm for the facility.

“I think when it comes to recruiting, what we are learning and experiencing is that we have to be open-minded and think outside of that traditional approach for engaging with physicians at different stages of their career,” Mr. Cayer said. “I think that if we continue to remain creative and open when it comes to good and outstanding providers I think we will serve our community well.”

More information about Empire Dermatology and the new practitioners will be provided on the Health System’s website, www.lcgh.net.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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