Martin to open family practice in December, hopes for federal designation

Enterprise file photo — H. Rose Schneider

Nurse practitioner Jill Martin speaks to Hilltown residents at the Helderberg Ambulance headquarters in June.

BERNE — Hilltown residents may soon have another medical office in Berne.

Jill Martin, a nurse practitioner who previously worked at Capital Care Family Medicine Berne — one of just two doctor’s offices in the Helderbergs that closed in June — said that she hopes to open her own practice on Dec. 1 of this year; patients will be able to book appointments starting Nov. 1.

At the same time, the only remaining Hilltown doctor is returning from three weeks of medical leave. She said she’s doing well.

Myria Emeny, M.D. runs a “micropractice” in Westerlo, taking only a limited number of patients. In micropractices, doctors lower overhead costs by also performing the roles of secretary, cashier, nurse, and groundskeeper.

“They’ve got a direct line to me,” she said of her patients. Emeny emphasized that she spends more time with her patients than other physicians.

Emeny added that the community support for her own health has been very helpful and uplifting.

Nurse practitioners are allowed to operate their own practices, without a doctor. Martin said her business has been incorporated as a professional limited liability company, or PLLC, under the name official name Hilltown Healthcare NP Family PLLC; the “NP” stands for “nurse practitioner.”

Martin said the practice will casually be called Hilltown Healthcare.

Meanwhile, efforts continue to get the Hilltowns designated as a federally underserved area.  Ray Schimmer, a volunteer emergency medical technician in Berne who is married to a town councilwoman, has been organizing efforts to receive the designation.

The New York State Department of Health recently filed the Hilltown application with the federal government, and he expects to have an answer within two to three months, Schimmer said.

Schimmer said that the application emphasizes that, while the linear distance to other doctor’s offices in Guilderland or New Scotland may seem not so far away, the topography of the Hilltowns can make the trip difficult, especially in bad weather, he said.

The chain of single practitioners serving Berne was broken when Kristen Mack, O.D. left for Ticonderoga in June after practicing in the Hilltowns for five years. She was trained by Gary Kolanchick, M.D. who, in turn, had originally worked with Margery Smith, M.D., practicing from her husband’s farm. Kolanchick set up the current office in the Berne hamlet, next to the school, but eventually came under the umbrella of corporate medicine before retiring to Maine. With the current crisis, he offered to come back part-time as a consulting physician.

Martin's family practice — serving newborns up to the elderly — will occupy the same building the Capital Care office left, at 1772 Helderberg Trail, said Martin. Some equipment from the former office was donated to her practice from Community Care, the company that had owned the closed practice in Berne. ​But, she later said, she is still in the process of purchasing items for computer, phone, and medical-records systems.

Some equipment used for the “vitalist program,” a program where the doctor communicated with homebound patients via webcam and other digital tools used by volunteers in patients’ homes, was also donated, said Martin. She said she hopes to eventually renew the vitalist program “one way or another,” such as through a grant.

One of the last major steps, said Martin, is to obtain credentials to accept insurance. She believes the office will be able to accept Medicare and Medicaid insurance by October.​ Because it can take months to obtain credentials from other insurance companies, Martin plans on offering either a flat fee or paperwork for patients to submit their bills to their insurance companies themselves.

The number of staff at Hilltown Healthcare will stay small for now. Jane Snyder and Robin Conklin, two licensed practical nurses who also worked at the Capital Care practice, will return to work with Martin. Martin’s daughter, Sarah Martin, will also work at the practice as a medical assistant and receptionist.

Martin said that several nurse practitioners and medical students have reached out to her. She said she would consider hiring other staff depending on how the practice does.

“Each patient is so important to keeping the practice sustainable,” she said.

Underserved designation

With around 9,000 residents in the Helderbergs living with only one office nearby, Emeny's, Martin said that she has continued efforts to designate the Hilltowns as a medically underserved area. She said she has been meeting with various politicians and officials at the state’s Department of Health.

“To make sure this never happens again,” said Martin, referring to the closure of the Berne practice. Martin, who is 52, said the designation would continue on long after she retires — she intends to keep working for the next 13 to 15 years — and ensure some protection for the area.

A designation could qualify Berne for funding for a health center, or incentivize doctors to work in Berne through the J-1 visa program that allows doctors from foreign countries to stay in the United States after finishing their education in the United States. Martin noted that young doctors could also be incentivized to work in the Hilltowns because it could qualify them for certain student loan repayment programs.

To qualify as a medically underserved area or population, specific criteria must be met, as designated by the federal Health Resources & Services Administration. This includes the ratio of medical providers to the population, the population at or below the federal poverty level, the infant mortality rate, and the number of people age 65 or older. An exception can be made if a governor makes a recommendation that the area be designated.

State agencies are responsible for helping an area or population apply for the designation.

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