Personalized Care, a Healing Space Near Home

Vision for the Future co-chair experiences first-hand the importance of quality local care

This article was published in our Fall 2015 Update.

Lincoln ClarkLincoln Clark, Gifford trustee and co-chair of the Vision for the Future campaign, has been actively raising funds for the new Menig Nursing home and the subsequent private patient
room conversion at the hospital.

In an odd twist of fate, the Royalton resident recently experienced first-hand just how important quality local care and private patient rooms can be to both the patient and their family.

While on an annual fishing trip with his son in northern Maine, Clark fell and broke his hip as they were taking their boat to get the motor serviced. After a 178-mile ambulance ride to Portland, ME, he found himself facing surgery by a surgeon he’d never met.

“I spent approximately four minutes with him prior to the operation. I was doped up to the gills, and I couldn’t understand his precise and very technical description of the procedure,” Clark said. “The next day he was off-duty so his partner, a hand surgeon, looked at my wound.”

That same day a care management representative visited to say that he would be released the following morning—they were looking for a rehabilitation facility that could take him.

Clark asked if he could go home to his local hospital, and was told that Medicare would only pay for an ambulance to the closest facility (to pay for an ambulance to Vermont, would cost him thousands of dollars). He was transferred to a facility in Portland the following morning.

“The new room was sectioned off with brown curtains, the bed pushed up against a wall, and there was a 3-foot space at the bottom of the bed for my wife, Louise, to sit,” he said. “It was smaller than most prison cells! My roommate’s family (six of them) was visiting, and they were watching a quiz show on TV at full volume.” This was the low point.

Overwhelmed, the Clarks struggled to figure out the logistics of a long stretch in rehab for Lincoln, and the hours-long commute for Louise, who had to maintain their house in Royalton.

After an unimpressive start in the rehab physical therapy department, they made an unusual but obvious choice: Louise packed Lincoln into the car and they made the 4-hour drive to Randolph.

“I wanted to be at Gifford. I knew the physical therapy team was first rate, and I was confident I would get the kind of therapy I needed to get me out of the hospital,” Clark said.

Fortunately, a room was open and he spent ten days at Gifford this summer. He worked on his laptop in the Auxiliary Garden, met with people in his room, and was even wheeled to the conference center to attend board and committee meetings. Once discharged, he was able to continue his therapy as an outpatient.

“After this experience I really can see how important a private patient room is,” he said. “And I can attest that the letters to the board, the positive comments patients make on surveys, and the occasional letters to the editor don’t begin to describe all that it means to be cared for by Gifford’s staff. This is just a great hospital!”

The “Preventable Cancer:” Spreading the Word about Colorectal Screening

This article was published in our Cancer Program 2014 Annual Report.

preventing colon cancer

The providers in Gifford’s Cancer Program regularly visit senior centers, nursing homes, church meetings, and other community gatherings to offer skin cancer screenings, give free talks on cancer prevention and the importance of early detection, and host educational discussions of breast, bladder, prostate, and colorectal cancer.

In talks like “Everyone’s Got One: A Discussion of the Colon and How to Keep it Healthy,” surgeon Dr. Olveto Ciccarelli uses humor to help people learn about the importance of colorectal cancer prevention and screening.

“Everyone has these organs, but people are reluctant to talk about problems with their colon or their rectum,” said Ciccarelli. “Men especially find it difficult to discuss these matters, but this is one area where medical science has proven that cancer can be avoided, lives extended, and quality of life improved.”

This is especially true with colorectal cancer, which was a program focus for 2014. Colorectal cancer is called the only “preventable cancer” because it is the one cancer where regular screenings can help to keep cancer from forming. A colonoscopy detects any slow-growing polyps that may form in the colon so they can be removed before becoming cancerous. Because early colorectal cancer often has no symptoms, screening is even more important because it can detect existing cancer when treatment is most effective.

Still, colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in men and women in the United States. The good news is that deaths from colorectal cancer have decreased as more people take advantage of screening tests like colonoscopies, specialized X-rays, and tests that check for cancer in the stool.

So far, Gifford has had significant success with our efforts to increase colorectal screening rates for our target age group of 50-75 (an increase to 90 percent in 2014 from 59 percent in 2013).

We will continue to spread the word in our community. With colon cancer, it is simple: Regular screening could save your life.

Click here to read our full Cancer Program 2014 Annual Report.

Project Independence

The following article appeared in our 2014 Annual Report.

Project Independence

Adult Day participants at both of Gifford’s locations enjoy many activities: sing-alongs, live performances, arts and crafts, exercise, games — even visits from a therapy dog!

Another senior-health initiative came to fruition in 2014 when the boards of Gifford and Project Independence, an adult day center located in Barre, unanimously
agreed to a merger in May after studying the relationship for more than a year.

The merger took place at the conclusion of Gifford’s fiscal year on September 30.

Project Independence got its start in 1975 when a nursing home activity director, Lindsey Wade, encountered residents who didn’t seem to medically belong there. Wade envisioned a social adult day program, a new concept at the time. An active board and an interested city brought to life Project Independence on Washington Street, and in the decades since, its model has expanded statewide. There are currently 14 adult day programs in Vermont.

Today’s Project Independence serves 23 towns in Washington and northern Orange counties, welcoming an average 38 seniors and the disabled each weekday. The project includes meals, showers, medication management, and ample activities, providing participants with a fun and safe day care experience while also allowing them to stay at home—a far more affordable model than nursing-home care.

But an ongoing struggle for funding—combined with property damage caused by flooding in 2011 and a sewer issue during Barre’s “Big Dig”—prompted small, standalone Project Independence to seek help in the form of a partner. The board was drawn to Gifford because of the adult day program in Bethel, the medical center’s mission of supporting seniors, and its commitment to community.

Under the full-asset merger, Project Independence retains its name, location, and fund-raising dollars. Its board will become an advisory board to provide local perspective and experience, and employees will become part of Gifford, opening the door to enhanced benefits. Project Independence will be helped by Gifford’s staff, from financial to billing to nursing help, as well as its buying power as a larger organization.

“When someone has a humble request for help as it relates to the delivery of health care services, we take that seriously,” said Gifford Administrator Joe Woodin, praising Project Independence’s board, values, volunteers, and hardworking team. “For us, that’s extraordinarily appealing and we’re thankful that they’ve asked us.”

Joining with Project Independence is in keeping with Gifford’s mission and provides support to a needed service that will no doubt grow as the state looks for more affordable ways to care for a growing senior population, said Gifford Board Chair Gus Meyer.

Dr. Laura Barber Joins Chelsea Health Center

Gifford welcomes experienced primary care physician to community health center team

Dr. Laura Barber

Dr. Laura Barber

Dr. Laura Barber, MD, has joined the Chelsea Health Center, bringing more than 20 years of experience caring for families as a primary care physician.

When the private primary care group practice she had led in Abilene, Texas recently dissolved, rather than affiliate with a larger healthcare organization, Dr. Barber saw an opportunity to move to New England, where her son and sister live.

“When I visited the Chelsea Health Center, I liked what I saw,” she said. “I like to get to know people over a period of time, to work with entire families. This is the kind of patient-centered care I want to be doing.”

Barber earned a BS from Newcomb College of Tulane University, and an MD at the University of Texas Medical School, San Antonio. She completed her family practice residency at the Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene Texas, stayed on in private practice, and has been president of Abilene Primary Care Associates since July of 1996.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Barber often visited a small rural Eastern Texas town that inspired her first dreams of becoming a physician.

“I loved science and working with people, and medicine combined these interests. As it turned out, I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “My first dream was to set up a practice over the post office in that small rural town I’d come to love as a child.”

That Texan town was later ruined by strip mining, but Barber and her sister, who has owned a cabin in Tunbridge since the early 80’s, say the area around Chelsea brings back memories of the rural community they had loved as children and “feels like home.”

The move cross-country makes sense in other ways as well. One of Barber’s three sons is working with a technology firm in Nashua, NH. And Barber and her husband, avid history buffs, have purchased the historic Federal-style Denison house in Royalton Village.

“I was up until midnight the night we purchased it, rubbing orange oil and bees wax on the dry, old wood paneling!” she said.

Dr. Barber is board-certified by the American Board of Family Practice and a fellow of the American Academy of Family Practice. At the Chelsea Health Center she joins physician assistant and Chelsea native Rebecca Savidge, and is now seeing new patients. Call for an appointment at 802-685-4400.

Alan Jacobs Exhibit at Gifford Medical Center’s Art Gallery

Alan Jacobs

Oil on canvas abstract by Alan Jacobs

Twelve vibrantly colored abstract paintings by Vermont artist Alan Jacobs are currently on display in the Gifford Medical Center art gallery. The exhibit will run through September 23, 2015, and is free and open to the public.

Jacobs, a retired psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and self-taught artist, describes his process as being “more determined by a conversation between fingers, paint, canvas, and unreflective thought and impulses than by any conscious ideas.”

After moving to Vermont several years ago, he began to paint at the suggestion of his artist daughter. He started working with pastels, but moved on to oil on canvas. Jacobs
says that he trusts the viewer to connect and react to the recurrent colors and images in his work in their own unique way.

Jacobs’ work was displayed earlier this year in VTC’s Hartness Library.

Gifford Welcomes Dr. Jonathan Bjork

Dr. Jonathan Bjork

Dr. Jonathan Bjork

Podiatrist Jonathan Bjork has joined Gifford Medical Center’s Randolph and Sharon clinics.

A board-certified podiatrist, he received a BS from St. Olaf College, a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine from Des Moines University, and completed his Podiatric Medicine and Surgery Residency at the William S. Middleton VA hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.

While in medical school, Bjork chose to specialize in podiatry because it would offer opportunities for a varied practice: performing surgery, working in a clinic, helping patients with rehabilitation, and treating sports injuries. He brings widespread clinical interests to his work, from rear foot and ankle surgery, flat foot reconstruction, and heel spur resection to diabetes-related infections, sports injuries, and treatment for bunions and hammertoes.

“I like to develop good, ongoing relationships with patients so I can get to know their needs and expectations,” said Bjork. “This allows me to consider a patient’s specific concerns when treating injuries or infections.”

Bjork and his wife have family near Boston and were looking to settle in a small town where they could raise their 4-month-old son. They have purchased a home near the hospital with a yard (space for a golden retriever) and easy access to the outdoor activities they love: skiing, mountain biking, and hiking.

“Randolph is a very warm and welcoming community,” said Bjork. “It is smaller than Platteville, Wisconsin, where I grew up, but it reminds me of my home.”

Bjork is the newest member of Gifford’s team of podiatrists, which includes Dr. Nicolas Benoit (Randolph), Dr. Samantha Harris (Berlin), and Dr. Paul Smith (Sharon). He is now accepting new patients at our Randolph and Sharon locations—call 728-2777 to schedule an appointment.

Gifford’s Last Mile Ride Raises $104 K for End-of-Life Care

Two-day event exceeds 10th anniversary fundraising goal

Last Mile Ride 2015

Vermont Combat Veteran road guard leader and top LMR fundraiser Reg Mongeur, ride leader Orange County Sheriff Bill Bohnyak, and LMR co-founder and former road guard leader Charlie Amico.

More than 385 Last Mile Ride participants joined together to raise $104,000 to support Gifford Medical Center’s end-of-life services on Friday and Saturday, exceeding the event’s ambitious 2015 goal of $100,000.

“The enthusiasm, spirit, and selfless efforts of all of you—volunteers, staff, participants, donors, and Combat Vet road guards who keep our event safe—have helped us to raise more than $300,000 over the years for end-of-life services,” Gifford’s Director of Development Ashley Lincoln told the crowd as she announced this year’s record-breaking figure. “Thanks to you we’ve exceeded our $100,000 goal allowing us to provide comfort and support to families when they are feeling most vulnerable.”

Lincoln went on to share that there will be a second garden room suite created during the hospital’s current renovations.

Started in 2006 with just 74 motorcyclists, the Last Mile Ride has grown into two days of fundraising activities that include a timed 5K, a one-mile walk, a 35-mile bicycle ride, and an 87-mile motorcycle ride. Last Mile Ride funds bring patients alternative therapies like Reiki, massage, and music therapy to help with pain management. They also provide unique services to support family members: providing meals for those spending last moments with loved ones in the hospital’s Garden Room, helping with transportation costs for far-away family, or arranging for photographs or a patient’s special last wish.

Last Mile Ride 2015Humidity was high and temperatures were in the 80’s for both evening and day events, but participants remained spirited and energetic. Some came to honor a friend or loved one, many came to “give back” for a Garden Room or special end-of-life experience, wanting to make sure others will have the same support and comfort during “life’s last mile.”

Firefighters Nick Benson and Ryan Kennedy braved the heat in full gear to honor Benson’s mother Roxanne Benson (a long-time LMR supporter who died last May) and Kennedy’s father-in-law Jimmy Boulter (who died in the garden room in 2011). Kennedy is a member of the Chelsea Fire Department. Benson grew up in Chelsea but now works for the Barre Fire Department. Benson explained their outfits: “My mom was big into getting me into fire services. She was a first responder with First Branch Ambulance and also a big supporter of Last Mile ride. I’m not mature enough to own a motorcycle,” Benson joked, “but I’m confident I can walk in this gear. I think we’re going to make this a tradition!”

After the race Friday evening, rain showers helped to cool the 179 hot runners and walkers as they gathered for prizes awarded to top fundraisers: Lindsay Haupt (5K) and Louise Clark (walk) received a gift card to Dick’s Sporting Goods and a Stateline Sports sneaker voucher. Chris Gish was the top male 5K finisher and Sara Lewis was the top female 5K finisher. Total race results are listed at

On Saturday, heavy rain held off until after the famous outdoor barbeque lunch, where 206 bicyclists and motorcyclists sat at long tables to share stories, welcome newcomers to the Last Mile Ride community, and receive raffle, door, and fundraising prizes.

Lincoln honored Randolph volunteer Reg Mongeur. A Vermont Combat Veteran’s road guard for all ten years of the event, he took over organizing the guards when co-founder Charlie Amico stepped down. Mongeur came to the event after several of his relatives died in the Garden Room, and soon became a top fundraiser, often sitting at a table in front of Shaw’s to spread the word about Last Mile Ride services and solicit donations.

Last Mile Ride 2015“Reg has done phenomenal work for Last Mile Ride,” Lincoln said. “He served his country in Viet Nam, came home, worked hard, raised a family, and now works hard serving our community.” Poking fun at Mongeur, Lincoln shared that he is well-known as he “hounds us on Facebook and Shaw’s” raising awareness and support for the event. “Reg will be turning his motorcycle keys in, but thankfully remains committed to our event.”

Last Mile Ride Raffle prize winners were:

• Annette Sargent of Roxbury, who won the Harley-Davidson donated by Wilkins Harley-Davidson in South Barre

• Dr. Josh Plavin of Randolph, who won the bicycle donated by Green Mountain Bicycle Express in Northfield

• Wendy Wells of Randolph Center, who won the quilt made by Gifford nursing staff

• Ronald Warner of Randolph, who won the toolbox donated by Randolph Auto Supply

Ten riders raised over $1,000, with the top fundraisers being Reg Mongeur, Linda Chugkowski and Robert Martin, Chip Milnor, and Todd Winslow. Top fundraiser prizes were: four tickets to NH Speedway, four tickets to The Great Escape, a Gondola Ride and lunch at Stowe Mountain Resort, and the Local Prize Package (two tickets to the New World Festival, one-night stay at the Three Stallion Inn, and a gift certificate to Saap Restaurant).

Generous business support played a huge role in the event’s success. Forty-six businesses sponsored this year’s event, with major sponsors including Be Good Sports, The Frankenburg Agency, Froggy 100.9, Gillespie Fuels and Propane, HP Cummings, Lucky’s Trailer Sales, Mascoma Savings Bank, Northfield Savings Bank, and Wilkins Harley-Davidson.

As the rumble of the bikes rang through the towns, riders enjoyed support along the route from cheering community members, including local fire departments and the White River Valley Ambulance. Rider safety was ensured by volunteers from the Green Mountain Bike Patrol, the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, and ride leader Orange County Sheriff Bill Bohnyak.

Read More about Gifford’s Last Mile ride on Gifford’s website at The 2016 Last Mile Ride will be Friday August 19, and Saturday August 20.

A Message from the Medical Director of the Hospital and Medicine Divisions, Dr. Martin Johns

The following article appeared in our 2014 Annual Report.

Dr. Martin Johns

Dr. Martin Johns

One evening when I was on duty, a 911-call patient was brought into the emergency room. The patient was unresponsive and unable to communicate.

I pulled up the electronic medical record and was able to see that he had been given a new medication when seen at a Gifford clinic earlier that day.

Clearly he was having a delayed allergic reaction, and because I could see exactly what medication he was given, I could immediately give him the appropriate antidote. If I had not had access to the information in EMR, I would have had to guess and start trying different medicines to counteract the reaction.

When another patient was confused about what medications they were taking, I pulled up their most immediate office note on EMR and made adjustments based on what had been done within the previous 24-hour period.

An important aspect of the new EMR system is that it allows medical information to follow the patient through transitions of care across all Gifford platforms: inpatient care, outpatient care in community clinics, radiology, and emergency room visits.

In the past, important information could be unavailable or even lost during these transitions—a clinic might be closed for the day, or important information not yet added to a patient’s record. Now, anyone caring for a patient can view important information and also update the record (adding a newly developed allergy or immunization) or note changes in clinical status.

A Message from the Executive Director of Gifford Retirement Community Linda Minsinger

The following article appeared in our 2014 Annual Report.

Executive Director of Gifford Retirement Community Linda Minsinger

Executive Director of Gifford Retirement Community Linda Minsinger

Vermont has a huge need to figure out how to care for its seniors. Isolation is one of the biggest problems of aging in a rural area. Humans are meant to be with humankind. We proved that years ago when we tried to understand how much touch people need as a baby; when you don’t get it, you fail.

It’s the same with seniors. We want everyone to treasure our seniors as much as we treasure our babies.

Adult day care is a cost-effective way to help seniors age. Yet it has been underdiscussed and underplanned. The state of Vermont only wants one adult day-care center per county. That doesn’t make sense. Orange County has two sets of mountains. It takes me an hour and a half to get from Bradford to Randolph—that’s still in my county. It’s unfair to ask fragile seniors to sit on the bus for an hour and a half.

The state puts a lot of money into nursing homes, so there isn’t much left over for other programs. Adult day gets what we call “budget dust.” We should be trying to figure out how to have fewer people in nursing homes. Let’s tip this pyramid upside-down.

When someone is diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimers, that’s the time to start. The earlier you get them into social situations, the better it will be for them and for their caregivers in the long run.

Enhanced Response to Community Need

The following article appeared in our 2014 Annual Report.

Randolph VT hospitalAs many community hospitals find themselves contracting—or even closing—because of external pressures, Gifford is developing models that will expand services to respond to community needs.

“FQHC resources allow us to expand existing medical services and to create new paths to help patients with behavioral health and dental issues,” says Dr. Martin Johns, medical director of the hospital and medicine divisions. “These areas can impact a patient’s general health, and need to be part of standard primary care.”

Integrating behavioral and dental health into primary care
A special behavioral care team (a psychiatrist, psychologists, social workers, and care managers) has been created to help link access to behavioral health services to primary care. This group will work directly in concert with primary care providers in their offices, so services can be seamlessly added to a patient’s care plan as needed. The new enhanced behavioral health services model will be offered at Gifford’s Randolph campus early in 2015, and will then expand to the community clinics.

Gifford has established relationships with local dentists so that people coming to primary care providers with unmet dental conditions can receive care. This program will hopefully expand to include additional dental providers and other FQHC and federal programs services.

Rising to the challenge of increased substance abuse
Medical centers across the country are struggling to meet the needs of people with alcohol and substance dependency problems. FQHC funding is allowing Gifford to expand existing Vermont Blueprint for Health services so providers can better address the special needs of those who are opiate dependent and want to avoid substance abuse.