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Northern and Southern Inyo Hospitals are currently recruiting additional medical staff for their Rural Health Clinics and making other plans to better serve their expanding patient populations.
At the Sept. 19 regular monthly meeting of the Northern Inyo County Local Hospital District Board of Directors, Northern Inyo County Rural Health Clinic Medical Director Dr. Stacey Brown reported on the status of NIH’s ongoing efforts to recruit highly qualified medical staff due to the closure this month of Family Health Centre Medical Group, formerly located at 686 W. Line St.
“We are deeply saddened to see another primary care practice in Inyo County stop seeing patients. There is a desperate need for basic, quality medical care in rural America and we are seeing that need first-hand in our local communities. Luckily, the RHC was started by a partnership between NIH and the Inyo County Health Department in 2001 with just that need in mind. Looking to the future, the RHC has been and continues to be the ‘safety net’ for the residents of Inyo County,” said Brown.
Three years ago, NIH Chief Financial Officer John Halfen asked Brown and RHC Clinic Nurse Manager Tracy Aspel to begin recruiting family practice physicians and other staff, said Aspel. “A year and a half ago, we began working with a recruitment agency,” Delta Physician Placement in Dallas, Texas.
With NICLHD board members Dr. Scott Clark, M.C. Hubbard, Denise Hayden and Dr. John Ungersma present – Pete Watercott was absent – Brown said Halfen is offering professional staff contracts that include full benefits such as medical, dental and vision insurance as well as retirement benefits. “I’d like to include those benefits for new staff,” along with the standard relocation reimbursement, said Brown, a board-certified family practice physician and NIH Medical Staff member.
“We want to offer hope to the community that we’ll be there for them, providing primary care with an expanded staff and infrastructure,” said Brown.
RHC has begun to answer that need by creating a telephone triage system, Aspel explained, for patients who have critical needs and have lost their primary care doctor, “people without a medical home.” The triage protocol assesses the level of urgency of patient care needed in order to minimize delays in treatment, she said. “We’ve figured out how to work them in, in a day or two … Our goal is to care for everyone,” providing them with a medical home they can trust.
In order to accommodate more patients, more staff is required. Brown is currently interviewing three, out-of-area family practice physicians. Everyone involved needs to “decide if we’re a good match for them and that this is where they want to be,” said Aspel. “The recruits must be well-trained, friendly and willing to be members of the local community,” Brown added. “They must fit well with the clinic as well as the hospital staff when attending patients in the new building. We want this to be a successful long-term marriage between the providers and the hospital family.”
RHC is also in the process of hiring and credentialing a local resident physician assistant, Robert Frankel, whom the clinic hopes to bring on board to see patients by December, said Aspel. “All medical staff must be board-certified.” Brown added, “Realistically, we need one to three more physicians and we are capping our mid-level hires at five” to fulfill current projected needs. Mid-level hires refer to nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
Bringing in “at least two physicians and one physician assistant” plus future additional staff, will necessitate a facility expansion, explained Aspel. RHC is licensed to its site and therefore cannot be moved so the facility must be enlarged. It is projected that, in 2013 when the new hospital building is finally occupied and surrounding modules have moved into the old hospital, RHC may be able to expand into the space between it and Hospice of the Owens Valley, she said.
“We’ll end up needing 10 exam rooms, more staff and office space,” explained Aspel, “we’re looking at ways to expand our space in order to provide expanded patient care in our community. We provide medical care from birth to death in this office.”
Currently on staff at RHC are family practice physicians Dr. Thomas Boo, Dr. Jennifer Scott, and Brown; physician assistants Brett Davis and Sarah Starosta; Adult Nurse Practitioner Mara Yolken; Family Nurse Practitioner Tracy Drew; and part-time pediatricians Drs. Charlotte Helvie and Kristin Collins, who also practice at NIH and Bishop Pediatrics and Allergies.
“Excellent care is paramount here,” Aspel went on to say, “We are looking for people with excellent skill sets for our patients and good fit for our community so that (staff) will want to stay here for the long run.”
Southern Inyo Hospital District Human Resources Manage Sanford Nabaha, said his district is also recruiting. Currently, its website, www.southerninyohealthcaredistrict.org, is advertising for CNAs; LVNs and RNs with emergency room experience; a physical therapist; a radiologist technologist; and an IT assistant. All medical staff must be currently licensed and registered in California, he said.
Nabaha faces the same, if not more heightened recruiting challenges as Brown, given the district’s remote location. Southern Inyo Hosptial District does offer full benefit packages – vaction/sick pay, retirement, dental/vision/medical/mental health insurance as well as limited relocation packages. Nabaha said benefits also include reduced medical rates to off-set employee’s out-of-pocket medical costs.
Currently the district is relying heavily on outsourcing to temporary traveling providers necessitated by vacancies and current staff vacation or extended sick leave, said Nabaha. Outsourcing is very costly, he added.
Southern Inyo Healthcare District provides medical care in an area that is even more remote than Northern Inyo Hospital District’s is, covering Lone Pine, Independence, Keeler, Cartago, Darwin and more.
Southern Inyo Rural Health Clinic, located at 510 E. Locust St. in Lone Pine, has a high-tech answer to getting medical providers “into” the area. It’s called Tele-Health, a video conferencing system. “The unique thing it provide is one-on-one direct care with actual out-of-area doctors and other kinds of providers,” said Nabaha.
However, said Southern Rural Health Clinic Coordinator Laura Sauldana, Tele-Health actually increases the need for staff instead of reducing it.
“Tele-Halth is integrated to our practice,” said Sauldana. Out-of-area specialist consultations generated activity for appointment and billing staff, screening for vitals and so on by medical professionals who also accompany patients during Tele-Health consultations; and of course, subsequent follow-up by family practitioners. “It’s like having additional staff,” with the set-up and after-care that specialist consultations recommendations generate. “It involves hands-on care.”
Saldana said she is recruiting specialists throughout Inyo and Mono counties for the Tele-Health program to decrease the amount of travelling patients must do and to increase the care the clinic and hospitals can provide locally. Bottom line, more medical staff is required.
For more information about recruitment, contact Tracy Aspel at (760) 873-2849. Call Nabaha at (760) 876-5501 for comprehensive job description; call Nabaha, or Sauldana at (760) 876-1146, for more information.