After hiatus, new medical practice to open in Berne in December

Jill Martin

Enterprise file photo — H. Rose Schneider
Nurse practitioner Jill Martin speaks to Hilltown residents in June, during a meeting discussing the recent closure of one of only two Hilltown medical practices. Martin will be opening her own practice in December.

BERNE — Jill Martin, a nurse practitioner who made it her mission to bring medical care back to the Hilltowns, announced this week that her practice, Hilltown Healthcare, PLLC, will open its doors on Dec. 2, 2019. 

Martin is certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center and as of now is the sole certified medical practitioner at Hilltown Healthcare. She told The Enterprise in an email that she has been interviewing candidates interested in joining the team and plans to make a hiring decision “in the near future.”

Additionally, Dr. Gary Kolanchick — who ran the Berne branch of Community Care Physicians for 13 years and retired several years before its closing last June — had his New York State medical license reinstated so he could aid Martin if she needs.

In preparation for December, the clinic’s phone lines will open on Nov. 1,  allowing prospective patients to schedule appointments and arrange the transfer of records from their current providers. 

Since Community Care Physicians, where Martin had worked, closed its doors in June, Berne has not had a medical practice.

The Hilltowns have just one other medical provider, Myria Emeny, M.D., who runs a micropractice, by herself, in Westerlo, which is unable to absorb the 1,900 patients displaced from the long-time Berne practice.

Community Care, which closed the practice, has over 70 offices and sought to funnel patients to the closest offices, in Guilderland and the Slingerlands. 

Hilltown Health’s office will remain at 1772 Helderberg Trail in Berne, next to the Berne-Knox-Westerlo campus. 

This milestone was achieved with support from Hannay Reels Inc., a  long-time Westerlo business whose Charitable Committee donated $10,000 to the Hilltown Health coffers.

“We were very impressed by Jill Martin and [organizer] Ray Schimmer’s presentation,” wrote Chief Operating Officer and co-owner Elaine Gruener in an email to The Enterprise, “as well as all the work that was done to date by these individuals and others to ensure that this much-needed medical practice will once again be operating and available to the residents that most need it.”

The decision was made by Hannay’s three owners: Elaine Hannay Gruener, Eric Hannay, and David Hannay.

“The Hannay donation is the sole contribution to date and is intended to assist uninsured and under-insured patients who are financially stressed during Hilltown’s first year of operation,” wrote Ray Schimmer in an email to The Enterprise. 

Schimmer is a volunteer EMT with Helderberg Ambulance who has been helping Martin as she works to get Hilltown Health up and running. 

He took the lead this summer, organizing concerned Hilltown residents, many of them patients of the closed practice, to assist Martin.

“Jill is the primary force here and currently holds all the business and professional risk,” Schimmer wrote The Enterprise in an email.

Instead of being turned away, non-authorized patients can pay the clinic directly, at a cost estimated to be around $50 for an office visit, Schimmer wrote in an email this week to Martin’s supporters, also published as a letter to the Enterprise editor. 

In short: All patients are welcome at Hilltown Healthcare from day one. 

However, the $50 payment does not cover the full expense of the clinic’s services, and the clinic will be operating at a “planned loss,” Martin told the Enterprise in an email. In the meantime, Hilltown Healthcare will rely on the Hannay donation until all insurance plans used by Hilltown patients accredit the clinic. Martin wrote that, once all insurance plans are authorized, she expects Hilltown Healthcare will be operating in the black.

Hilltown Healthcare is “half-way through the accreditation work,” according to Schimmer. He noted that half of Hilltown residents are covered under the Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan, Medicare, or Medicaid. Currently, Hilltown Healthcare is accredited by CDPHP, but is working to get authorization through the other two. Once Hilltown Healthcare is accredited, patients will be charged only their normal co-pay.

Martin also told The Enterprise that she’s been in contact with the Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan, along with other local businesses, which have signaled an interest in assisting the clinic. And she herself will be working pro bono as needed.

On the same day that Martin received word of the donation, Oct. 2, she found out that the New York State Department of Health granted the Helderberg Region the designation of Medically Underserved Area. 

The decision to designate an area as medically underserved is made by the federal  Health Resources and Services Administration and usually takes up to three months. Jeffrey Hammond, a public information officer for the New York State Department of Health, wrote to The Enterprise in an email that the areas are identified by their number of physicians per 1,000 people; the rate of people who live below 100 percent of the federal poverty level; the infant mortality rate; and the percent of citizens 65 or older.

The Health Resources and Services Administration website ranks the number of physicians as the highest-impact condition. Poverty, infant health, senior citizens, and travel time to the nearest source of care are all equal below that. 

Hammond wrote that the Hilltowns submitted its application on Aug. 1. Because the Center for Health Workforce Studies requested, on behalf of the state’s health department, that the federal Health Resources and Services Administration expedite the application, it was approved on Oct. 2, just two months later. The designation does not need to be renewed.

The Medically Underserved Area designation allows two important privileges for Hilltown Health and other future practices. 

The first is the option to hire foreign medical staff who would be able to apply for a visa waiver that allows them to circumvent certain exchange visitor requirements. 

The second is the potential for designation as a Rural Health Clinic by the state’s Department of Health.

“Rural Health Clinics” are a subset of Medically Underserved Areas that come with their own privileges and headaches. 

“The ‘pros’ are that RHCs are eligible for continuing grants of various sorts, and may be able to offer staff members access to loan-forgiveness programs,” Schimmer wrote to The Enterprise. “The cons are that the application process is expensive and complicated, and that continuing reporting is required to maintain the RHC status going forward.”

Schimmer says the decision to engage the application is pending while the clinic  earns experience and the staff weighs the pros and cons.

In a public email sent in response to one of a slew of congratulations from community members, Schimmer wrote, “The success achieved to date depended in large part from the community’s own support and participation … It was also clear from the beginning that as a single professional and her family were stepping forward to assume a huge business challenge and great personal risk, they were doing so with the support of their neighbors across the Helderberg towns.

“The relationship between communities, governments, and businesses doesn’t always work out the way it should,” Schimmer continued, “but I think this time it might have.”

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