Nurse practitioner Martin to start a new practice in Berne

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

Hilltown residents are not happy about the June 28 closure of the doctor’s office in Berne.

BERNE — Invoking the Anti-Rent Wars, Hilltowners are angry at Community Care Physicians since it is closing its doctor’s office in Berne on June 28. But they are also hopeful that Jill Martin, a nurse practitioner who has worked at the Berne office since 2016, will be able to start her own practice in the same building, a place she thought she would retire from.

While Community Care has over 70 offices, many rural residents are reluctant to be funnelled to the closest offices, in Slingerlands and Guilderland — a half-hour drive from Berne — as the company has urged. The Hilltowns have just one other medical provider, Myria Emeny, who runs a micro practice, by herself, in Westerlo, which is unable to absorb the 1,900 patients displaced from the long-time Berne practice.

Martin announced at a community-organized meeting Monday night that she intends to open her own medical office in November. Her announcement was met with applause from the 30 or so people gathered at the Helderberg Ambulance Station on Cole Hill Road in Berne.

Expenses for her practice include staff salaries and buying medical equipment. Martin said the equipment currently at the Berne doctor’s office will be offered to other Community Care practices after the office closes on Friday. The rest will be liquidated.

“So, we’re like a yard sale?” asked an incredulous audience member.

Martin, noting that Community Care is not yet aware of her starting her own practice, was doubtful anyone could buy back the equipment.

One audience member suggested that the one thing residents could do is shame Community Care for closing the office.

A woman quietly invoked the Anti-Rent Wars, which raged from 1839 to 1845, when Helderberg farmers protested a feudal system that had them paying rents to a patroon. They dressed as “Calico Indians” and sounded tin horns to warn of the sheriff’s approach.

The Hilltowners should stand up to those from “off the Hill” trying to take the equipment and not let it leave the office, she said.

Organizer Raymond Schimmer passed around a sheet for those who wanted to sign up for an email list.

“I call the email list ‘Tinhorn Health’ … ,” he said referring to the horns used by members of the Anti-Rent rebellion in the Hilltowns. “The people rose up … We’re descendants of those people.”

Community Care has stated that the Berne practice was closing because the primary care doctor, Kristin Mack, D.O., was leaving. Mack gave six-months’ notice and had thought a replacement would be found. As a nurse practitioner, Martin is able to operate her own practice.

At Monday night’s meeting, Martin asked the community for its help in designating the area as medically underserved. A designation as a medically-underserved area involves a lengthy application process with both the state and federal governments, but the governor can make an exception and issue a designation himself. Such a designation would make the area eligible for grants or incentives for physicians to practice there.

Martin is also hoping to obtain a grant to bring back the vitalist program, in which medical professionals from the Berne office used webcams and other equipment brought by trained staff known as vitalists to conduct appointments with homebound patients.

One of the reasons grants and other funding is being sought is to help with financing Martin’s practice.

“We can’t expect her to carry this financially on her own,” said Schimmer.

Gary Kolanchick, M.D., who ran the practice before Mack, has been trying to buy the Berne office’s medical equipment but appears to be unsuccessful, Martin said. Neal Hogan, a member of Helderberg Ambulance, told Martin he might know a source for used medical equipment.

Martin gave out contact information for community members to reach her as she starts her practice; she said people may call 518-641-7911 or email hilltown@b-e-s-t.com.

 

Hilltown health

Martin has submitted to form a professional limited liability company, or PLLC, with the proposed name of Hilltown Health or Hilltown Healthcare. She later told The Enterprise that in order for the PLLC to form it will have to be approved by the state Department of Education, and said that community members could help to expedite the process by calling state legislators or the education department.

Like her predecessor Mack, Martin hopes to care for patients of all ages and to visit homebound patients. Martin said she will also offer Saturday hours to ensure patients who can’t take time off from work can make appointments.

In the future, she would like to add services normally found only outside the Hilltowns, such as counseling and physical therapy.

Kolanchick will be coming out of retirement to serve as a consulting physician. After retiring, Kolanchick moved to Maine and his license to practice in New York expired, but he is in the process of getting re-certified.

Robin Conklin, a licensed practical nurse who had worked alongside Mack in Berne, will join Martin, and Jane Snyder, another licensed practical nurse who has worked in the Hilltowns for 45 years, will be coming out of retirement to join the practice as well. Martin’s daughter Sara, who had worked at the Berne practice as a medical assistant, will also join the team to work on Saturdays.

Martin, who said that she, like the rest of the community, only learned that  the Berne practice was closing last month, said that, in the remaining weeks at the practice, patients have come to her concerned.

Teenagers to whom Martin gave her cellphone number to call her with questions or if they needed help asked her if their next doctor would do the same. She recalls speaking to homebound patients from a webcam through the vitalist program.

“A lot of these people have no family left — except for us,” she said.

Martin advised patients to find a different practice to go to while she sets up her practice. She also asked patients to request printed copies of their medical records from Community Care; having copies will allow her to enter the records into her own computer system once her practice is open.

 

Pitching in

Schimmer, a former vitalist at the Berne practice, said at Monday’s meeting that he hopes to organize efforts to obtain a medically-underserved designation in the community, as well as assign community members to different tasks to advocate for Martin’s practice and the community.

Berne Councilwoman Dawn Jordan volunteered to create a Facebook page.

Sara Martin asked to help create a GoFundMe page.

George Gebe said he would contact his former Middleburgh High School student, Assemblyman Chris Tague.

Dawn St. Andrews offered her experience as a former home healthcare nurse.

Mary Alice Molgard, a communications professor and spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said she would contact every media outlet she has on speed-dial.

Knox Senior Services coordinator Charlotte Fuss said she had already contacted Deb Riitano, the commissioner of the Albany County Department for Aging. Fuss said Riitano told her that the county was making the Hilltowns’ situation a priority.

Schimmer, who is married to Berne Councilwoman Karen Schimmer, noted that the Berne Town Board also sent a letter to the state’s Department of Health. Martin said that Knox will be including a piece about these efforts in its town newsletter.

Raymond Schimmer said he has so far contacted Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Paul Tonko, as well as state legislators Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara and Senator George Amedore, hoping the politicians will advocate for the community to be designated medically underserved. He urged others to contact politicians as well.

“I don’t care who their party is,” said Schimmer.

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