Hilltown Healthcare moves closer to reality

To the Editor:

The needle for Hilltown Healthcare is moving very close to the “green” side of the gauge. Here is what is happening with the biggest news first:

— 1. With assistance from Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen, we met on Sept. 5, at the offices of Capital District Health Plan with John Bennett, MD, the CDPHP chief executive officer ; Anthony Marinello, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for Primary Care Services; and Brian Morrissey, CHIE, the president of Practice Support Services.

Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan operates in over 20 northeastern New York counties. We do not have exact numbers yet, but believe that CDPHP insured at least 50 percent — and probably more — of the former Berne Family Practice Office patients.

We presented a brief history of healthcare in the Helderbergs along with details concerning the recent closure of Berne Family Practice Office, described Jill Martin’s intention to establish a new practice, mentioned the Vitalist project, and recounted efforts to restore funding for that program.

We asked if the general initiative were something CDPHP might want and be able to support. The CDPHP executives expressed interest in the proposed new office as a provider of healthcare to the plan’s Helderberg clients. They described a wide variety of ways in which CDPHP might support Hilltown Healthcare as an independent medical practice. 

We were pleased in general by CDPHP’s receptiveness and by the many options they quickly sketched out for us. We did suggest that in any case Jill would retain authority over planning for and operation of what will be a locally-owned and operated independent medical office.

Plan executives understand the independent-practitioner concept and seemed optimistic that a relationship beneficial to both parties might be established. They also reacted positively to our description of the Vitalist program, and indicated that they may be able to support its restoration, either through advocacy with the Alliance for Better Health, or directly as CDPHP.

 The meeting ended with a decision that Dr. Marinello, Mr. Morrissey, and perhaps some other CDPHP staff will visit Jill at the future office site at 1772 Helderberg Trail in Berne in the next few weeks.

We  are extremely grateful that Dr. Bennett and his staff made so much time available to brainstorm with us, and we are looking forward to additional contact;

— 2. The Alliance for Better Health is a collaborative group of regional health organizations that is charged with developing cooperative methodologies and new community-based medical techniques that might reduce the use of expensive high-end procedures while using Medicaid funding more effectively. 

ABH provided the funding for the Vitalist program designed and implemented by Kristin Mack, D.O. prior to her relocation from Berne. We asked ABH to review the program’s performance and to consider re-funding it once Hilltown Healthcare opens this year.

ABH responded last week that it must reluctantly decline to do so at this time because the program did not see large enough numbers of Medicaid clients or demonstrably reduce significant amounts of healthcare expenditures.

They did advise that the decision might be reviewed upon expression of interest in it by a regional health plan. We became more optimistic about this avenue of pursuit following our meeting with CDPHP and will follow up in future meetings. In any case, given the alliance’s mission, we understand its position and are grateful for the staff’s attention to our request;

— 3. Jill Martin has begun renovation of the 1772 Helderberg Trail office. She received welcome news yesterday when Dennis Houilihan of Pavement Paintlines in East Berne offered to re-stripe the office parking lot as a donation. The Conklin family, owners of the property, accepted Dennis’s offer, and we are looking forward to seeing this work done; and

— 4. Jill’s husband has designed a new logo for Hilltown Healthcare. Keep your eyes open for that new sign that will announce: “Coming Soon!".  

Raymond Schimmer


Editor’s note: Raymond Schimmer, an emergency medical technician volunteering with the Berne ambulance squad, also worked in the vitalist program, which used a video feed and proxies to visit homebound patients. When the Berne doctor’s office was closed earlier this summer, Schimmer spearheaded a movement to find adequate healthcare for the Helderberg Hilltowns.

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