Project Independence Finds New Life in Gifford

Project Independence

Project Independence participants, from left, Marie, Diana and Kathy dance to singing and music by a visiting Chris Beltrami (not shown).

BARRE – The state’s first adult day center, Project Independence, got its start in Barre in 1975 when a nursing home activity director, Lindsey Wade, recognized an opportunity to do things better and more cost effectively.

Wade encountered nursing home residents who didn’t seem to medically belong there. Others were visiting the nursing home daily for the social interaction. Wade had an idea. The area needed an adult day care and not a medical model adult day, but a social model – something that didn’t exist anywhere else in the country.

An active board and an interested city brought to life Project Independence on Washington Street and in the decades since, its model has not only flourished but expanded statewide. There are currently 14 adult day programs in Vermont.

Project Independence

Project Independence Executive Director Dee Rollins visits with participants, from left, Flo, Gail, Beverly and Shirley as they wait to be served a home-cooked lunch that included baked macaroni and cheese and flavorful carrots.

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, allowing them 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 statewide adult days are struggling. Funding available for adult days almost guarantees failure. “The Adult Day financial model is not a successful one,” says Project Independence Executive Director Dee Rollins. “It’s a continued struggle to support our model.”

And Project Independence has had some recent extra hurdles.

It bought a North Main Street location and moved in 2010. Less than a year later, in May of 2011, the building flooded during a period of torrential rains that had storm water draining through a bulkhead into the building’s basement causing $295,000 in damages and losses. The following summer a sewer hookup issue during Barre’s “Big Dig” caused backups and additional damages and losses.

Project Independence

Gifford licensed nursing assistant Penny Severance helps Project Independence participant, Maddie, to her table for lunch.

Between those losses and looming health care reform that promises changes to health care funding and encourages health care relationships, small, standalone Project Independence began looking for help in the form of a partner. It found it in Gifford Health Care in Randolph.

A merger
Project Independence of Barre and the Gifford Retirement Community, part of Gifford Health Care in Randolph, will merge at the conclusion of Gifford’s fiscal year on Sept. 30. Boards for the two nonprofit organizations unanimously agreed to the merger in May after studying the relationship for more than a year.

It will be a full asset merger with Project Independence retaining its name, location and fund-raising dollars. Project Independence’s 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 benefit from Gifford’s staff, from financial to billing to nursing help, as well as its buying power as a larger organization.

For Project Independence it is an opportunity for financial stability and more amidst what have been a stormy couple of years and the projected financial changes under health care reform. For Gifford, it is an opportunity to further its work to support seniors and to partner with a reputable organization.

“It’s the right thing. It’s the right match. We have the right partner,” says Rollins, who was drawn to Gifford because it has its own adult day, the Gifford Adult Day Program in Bethel, shares a mission of supporting seniors and because of the Randolph hospital’s commitment to community.

Project Independence

Tammy Mattote, left, a licensed nursing assistant at Project Independence in Barre, serves participant Joanne lunch.

Gifford is currently building a senior living community in Randolph Center that will include a new nursing home and independent and assisted living units after seeing a need in the community for these services.

The Randolph medical center also already has services in the Barre area in the form of a health center off the Airport Road in Berlin. The Gifford Health Center at Berlin is home to family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, infectious disease, midwifery, orthopedics, podiatry, neurology and urology services.

“The combination of the two of us makes a lot of common sense and a lot of business sense,” Project Independence Board Chairman Steve Koenemann said, calling his board’s vote a very easy one to make and the plan “a no-lose proposition.”

“The goal is try to see the program grow,” Koenemann said. “We don’t want to change Project Independence. It has nearly 40 years of experience and reputation serving that community that’s not something that you want to back away from.”

“It’s not taking away anything from Project. It’s all additions,” added Rollins.

Gifford employees have already been providing support to Project Independence over the last year as the two organizations have carefully studied a merger.

Project Independence

Project Independence staff pose in front of the North Main Street adult day center in Barre. The center will merge with Gifford Health Care in Randolph this fall.

“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 Joseph 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.”

“We feel this is an honor that they asked,” agreed Linda Minsinger, Gifford Retirement Community executive director. “This is the right thing to do. It’s really important that these participants have a place that will carry on.”

Joining with Project Independence is in keeping with Gifford’s mission and providing 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 Chairman Gus Meyer.

“When you’re a very small organization, you don’t have the staff to do all of the different things to be done. It’s extremely difficult and it’s extremely draining to make an organization of that size successful. They’ve done a great job of keeping their organization alive in the face of huge challenges and at the same time provided a great service,” Meyer said. “A larger organization is much more able to absorb things that just come up. If there’s some facilities’ damage, it doesn’t become devastating.”

That is a scenario that has Project Independence breathing a sigh of relief.

“We are just all so encouraged. This just brings a true breath of fresh hope,” Rollins said. “We’re dancing in the streets.”

Well, maybe in the living room.

Project Independence participants – most of whom think of their home away from home as “the club” not an adult day center – let up a cheer upon hearing the news from Rollins that “the club” would merge with Gifford.

Staff members, who have been part of what have been very transparent discussions, were equally enthusiastic.

Cook Pam Bresette of South Barre said, “I think it’s going to be fabulous.”

Office Administrator Sue Catto of Barre took her job a year ago knowing positive changes were coming.

Licensed nursing assistant Amanda Koledo of Barre hopes to go to nursing school. Gifford provides tuition reimbursement.

Koledo has worked at Project Independence for six years. “I think it’s so exciting,” she said. “We’re on an island and we’ll now have life jackets.”

One Heaping Teaspoon of Heart: Cardiac Rehabilitation

The following is an excerpt from our 2013 Annual Report: A Recipe for Success.

Janet Kittredge

Janet Kittredge and cardiac rehabilitation nurse Annette Petrucelli

After having a stent placed in her heart, Janet Kittredge of Hancock did cardiac rehabilitation at Gifford. She was nervous to start, and then reluctant to leave.

“I love those ladies. They became friends and I couldn’t wait to get back to see them. I just thought they were such happy, positive people. They had (us) all feeling motivated and they made (us) all feel safe and secure … . We talked about all kinds of personal things. It was really fun. Anyone who was there was glad to come back and in no hurry to leave.”
~ Janet Kittredge

Bethel Artist Janet Hayward Burnham Coming to Gifford Gallery

Bethel acrylic artist Janet Hayward Burnham

“Long May She Wave” is one of Bethel acrylic artist Janet Hayward Burnham’s pieces in the Gifford Medical Center art gallery in Randolph from May 28 through June 25.

Artist and author Janet Hayward Burnham brings her acrylic and pen and ink works to the Gifford Medical Center art gallery from May 28 through June 25.

Burnham, now of Bethel, was born in Indiana, but never lived there. She went on to live in nine other states, attending 14 schools from kindergarten through college.

Burnham came to Vermont in 1968 with her husband and four children. They bought a farm in the Champlain Valley in Orwell, where Burnham taught art for a number of years and also wrote for Vermont Life.

Burnham was 42 when she graduated with a bachelor’s in fine arts from Castleton State College in 1979. “ … my two teenaged daughters – seated in the crowd – made me grin when they cheered as my name was called out at the graduation ceremonies,” Burnham recalls.

Art was Burnham’s first love.

“I think I’ve loved the art of making art since I picked up my first crayon,” she says. “Art was always my favorite class, bar none … even better than recess.”

She added the written word to her list of loves, and talents, in college.

Castleton was Burnham’s third college. Earlier at Columbia University in New York City in the late 1950s, while married and pregnant, an English professor first brought to light Burnham’s talent. He tasked the class with a first writing assignment. “When he passed the papers back two weeks later, he said we had all done fairly well, but there was one that was so outstanding, he was going to read it to the class. When he began reading, I was absolutely dumbfounded. It was mine. In all those schools I had attended – and some were excellent private schools – nobody ever told me I had a gift for working with words,” Burnham recalls.

“I now had two creative loves – art and the art of words.”

A poetry book Burnham wrote and illustrated, “A Week Ago Cat,” is the combination of those two loves.

Her show features illustrations and poems from the children’s book as well as other more adult pieces, and the book will be for sale in Gifford’s Gift Shop.

In addition to her book of poems, Burnham has been published in Yankee, Grit, The Boston Globe, The New York Daily News, Country Journal, Instructor, The Rutland Business Journal, The Herald of Randolph, and Woman’s World. She also penned two novels published in the United Kingdom that went on to editions in Sweden, Norway and the United States.

More recently, she helped research and was the lone writer of a book for The Bethel Historical Society titled “Vermont’s Elusive Architect George H. Guernsey.”

See Burnham’s unique art in the Gifford Galley. The show is free and open to the public. The Gifford Gallery is just inside the main entrance of the Randolph hospital at 44 S. Main St. Call Gifford at (802) 728-2324 for more information.

A New Family Medicine Team in Chelsea

Chelsea teamThis article was featured in our Spring 2014 Update Community Newsletter.

It’s not often you find just the right health care provider to join a clinic and a community. The Chelsea Health Center, remarkably, has two amazing new fits.

Dr. Amanda Hepler and physician assistant Rebecca Savidge, both family medicine providers, have joined the Route 110 health center as long-time physician assistant Starr Strong prepares to retire and family medicine physician Dr. Brian Sargent transitions to full-time emergency care at Gifford.

Rebecca is a Chelsea native. Dr. Hepler has a love of rural medicine.

“Dr. Hepler has a passion for rural primary care and will solely be working at the Chelsea Health Center while Rebecca is a young but experienced physician assistant who is a native of Chelsea and literally ‘grew up’ going to the Chelsea Health Center as a child. She truly understands the community,” notes Dr. Josh Plavin, the Medicine Division medical director at Gifford and a former Chelsea doctor.

Chelsea office manager and nurse Travis Worthen notes that patients are excited to have the duo aboard and to see Rebecca “coming back to her roots.”

Dr. Hepler’s experience, especially with the unexpected that can arise in a rural clinic, such as logging and farming injuries, is especially appreciated.

Both are also kind, thorough and accommodating caregivers, says medical secretary Deb Stender.

Dr. Hepler and Rebecca already see themselves as “a lasting fit” and as a team that both works well together and that hopes to improve care. They will do so by being at the clinic for more hours, meaning more opportunities for care and faster turnaround times on things like medication refills and lab results.

They also both have experience working with electronic medical records and are looking forward to seeing Chelsea make the transition, which will be more seamless thanks to their know-how.

“We are excited to welcome our new providers and announce expanded availability in Chelsea,” Dr. Plavin says. “We have developed a wonderful team, which I hope will be caring for patients in Chelsea for years to come.”

An open house was held Thursday, May 1 from 4-6 p.m. at the health center to welcome Dr. Hepler and Rebecca to the community and to wish Starr and Brian well.

Gifford Named a Top 100 Critical Access Hospital in the Nation

Gifford facadeGifford Medical Center in Randolph has been named among the nation’s top 100 performing Critical Access Hospitals by iVantage Health Analytics.

iVantage has developed what it calls a Hospital Strength INDEX and for 2014 measured 1,246 Critical Access Hospitals across the nation on 66 different performance metrics, including quality, patient outcomes and satisfaction, affordability, population health and hospital financial strength.

After weighing all of those factors, Gifford for 2014 has been named among the Top 100 Critical Access Hospitals in the nation – meaning it does well in a variety of areas as compared to its peers.

“Rural health care …. plays a vital role for communities across America, serving nearly 80 million people. The services provided in rural America are similar to those needed in any major metropolitan area, yet the volumes and economic resources provide little economies of scale, making for little benefit from scale. These Top 100 Critical Access Hospitals exhibit a focused concern for their community benefits and needs, regardless of scale, reimbursement and people’s ability to pay,” said John Morrow, executive vice president of iVantage.

Gifford was founded in 1903 and is part of Vermont’s non-profit health system. A 25-bed hospital in Randolph, it has eight outlying health centers meeting community members’ health needs where they live and work.

For the last 14 consecutive years, Gifford has met its state-approved budget and operating margin – a unique feat amid challenging economic times. At the same time, Gifford has embraced community health improvement initiatives that benefit patients, such the Vermont Blueprint for Health and by achieving Federally Qualified Health Center status.

A Critical Access Hospital is a hospital certified to receive cost-based reimbursement from Medicare. This program is intended to reduce hospital closures in rural areas, promotes a process for improving rural health care and focuses on community needs. Federally Qualified Health Centers are also nationally designated, but rather than inpatient care support outpatient primary care, including mental and dental health.

“What is interesting about this evaluation is that it looks at so many different indicators, all publicly available data, and combines them into a comprehensive evaluation. This year factors also grew to include the health of our community – a vital area where Gifford as a Critical Access Hospital and a Federally Qualified Health Center excels,” said Ashley Lincoln, Gifford director of development and public relations.

“These findings tell our community that we not only have a strong, high-quality local health care provider but that Gifford is well positioned for health care reform,” Lincoln added.

Springfield and Copley hospitals in Vermont also made the list.

Gifford Breaks Ground on Senior Living Community

Randolph senior center

Officials break ground Tuesday afternoon on Gifford Medical Center’s senior living community in Randolph Center. From left are Dan Smith from builder HP Cummings Construction Co., Gifford nursing home administrator Linda Minsinger, Gifford board Chairman ¬¬Gus Meyer, Gifford Administrator Joe Woodin, Gifford Vice President of Operations and Surgery Rebecca O’Berry and retired Gifford plant operations director Theron Manning.

Amid cloudy skies and unseasonably chilly temperatures, a crowd of more than 100 turned out Tuesday afternoon to show their support as officials from Gifford Medical Center officially broke ground on a much-anticipated Senior Living Community.

For more than two years Gifford in Randolph has been working to gain approvals and move forward with a project that includes the reconstruction of its 30-bed nursing home, the Menig Extended Care Facility, on 30 picturesque acres in Randolph Center. Later phases of the project would include up to 100 independent living units and 20 assisted living beds.

Plans additionally call for renovations at the hospital. Once Menig moves, the current nursing home at Gifford will be renovated into 25 private inpatient rooms for patient safety and privacy. The hospital now has shared rooms.

Gifford earned Act 250 approval for the first two phases of the project – the new 30-bed nursing home and 40 independent living units – last August and Certificate of Need approval for both the new nursing home and hospital renovations from the Green Mountain Care Board in October.

Spring construction was planned and on Tuesday hospital officials along with the contractor HP Cummings Construction Co., architect MorrisSwitzer, and engineer DuBois & King broke ground on the new nursing home.

“It is a great occasion to celebrate this next step,” said Gifford Administrator Joseph Woodin. “To be able to put the shovel to the ground, we’ll remember this.”

Woodin noted the nursing home’s history and track record.

Gifford opened the Menig Extended Care Facility in 1998 after a local for-profit nursing home, 53-bed Tranquility Nursing Home, was “closed” by the state for quality concerns.

Since it has opened, Menig has won numerous state and national awards for quality, including being named one of the country’s 39 best nursing homes in 2012 by U.S. News and World Report. The only nursing home in all of Orange County, Menig has a significant waiting list – about 100 people – for care.

Randolph senior living

Gifford Administrator Joseph Woodin addresses a crowd of more than 100 at Tuesday’s groundbreaking for Gifford’s senior living community in Randolph Center.

It’s nursing home officials’ hope that by adding assisted living units, some of that waiting list will be diminished. The medical center has also seen community members move outside of the area for independent living options.

Ashley Lincoln, Gifford’s director of development, called the project “both personally and professionally exciting.” “It is an opportunity for Gifford to carry on its tradition of meeting the community’s care needs, and it will allow more of our senior family and friends to remain in the region where they have grown up.”

The project, said Gifford Board of Trustees Chairman Gus Meyer, is a step forward for the hospital and the community.

“It has long been true in health care, if you stand still, you’re going to lose,” Meyer said.

And while Tuesday’s groundbreaking was for the new nursing home phase of the project, the complete plans are what excite Meyer.

“It’s not just a nursing home moving up on the hill. It’s all the renovations that are going to occur at the hospital,” he said, “and independent and assisted living come behind. We’re really excited about that, and we’re really excited to do this in a way that makes sense financially and that makes sense for our communities.

“This is all a part of Gifford becoming even more involved in the health of our communities, … and doing all we can to realize our vision of having the healthiest communities that we can.”

Construction on the new nursing home is expected to take about a year. Renovations at the hospital will follow.

Sharon Health Center Expands

Podiatrist Dr. Rob Rinaldi

Surrounded by Sharon Health Center staff, podiatrist Dr. Rob Rinaldi cuts a ribbon on the sports medicine clinic’s expansion. Dr. Rinaldi has been with the center since it opened in 2005. This is the second expansion.

When podiatrist Dr. Rob Rinaldi retired to Vermont, he didn’t envision continuing to practice medicine and certainly not for a hospital.

But Dr. Rinaldi found a cause worthy of coming out of a retirement. Working with Gifford Medical Center in Randolph, he helped create not only the vision – but the heart – behind the abundantly successful Sharon Health Center sports medicine clinic.

He has been such a positive influence that on Thursday at a ribbon cutting for an expansion to the health center, Gifford Administrator Joe Woodin unveiled a new sign recognizing Dr. Rinaldi and his Italian heritage. “Casa Rinaldi” reads the sign positioned beside the clinic’s front door.

It brought a surprised Dr. Rinaldi to laughter and tears.

Originally built in 2005, the Sharon Health Center got its start as both a primary care and sports medicine clinic, but quickly the sports medicine practice bloomed. In 2008, a 2,200-square-foot addition was added to the original 2,700-square-foot building.

In October, a third and final planned expansion got under way to better meet patient demand. It was that recently completed expansion, this time 2,600 square feet, that clinic staff and hospital administrators celebrated with a ribbon cutting.

On hand were staff, members of the public, and those involved in the project.

Casa Rinaldi

Podiatrist Dr. Rob Rinaldi, right front, reacts to Gifford Administrator Joe Woodin’s, left, announcement that a new sign names the building “Casa Rinaldi.”

Woodin praised the now retired Theron Manning, Gifford’s former director of facilities, as well as the project architect, Joseph Architects of Waterbury, and builder Connor Contracting, Inc.

All three phases of the building have had the same architect and contractor. “The fact that we have a consistent architect and builder, it looks like it has always been there,” Woodin said of the expansion.

“You stand back and look at this building and you can’t tell new from old,” agreed John Connor of Connor Contracting.

And Woodin praised Dr. Rinaldi and the complete Sharon Health Center sports medicine team.

“Thank you,” said Woodin. “You care for patients so well. The stories that come out of here. You save people (from debilitating injuries).”

“This started with a vision,” Dr. Rinaldi explained, noting that since many people have contributed to the health center, but the vision has remained.

Casa Rinaldi

“Casa Rinaldi”

That vision focuses on athletes, which Dr. Rinaldi described as “anyone who is doing a consistent exercise to reach a goal.” Sure, he said, the clinic attracts world class athletes on a regular basis. But if someone is walking a dog every day and feeling pain, the clinic is there for that athlete as well.

Overall the goal is to get athletes of all abilities back to the activities they love.

Dr. Rinaldi has been joined in his love of caring for athletes over the years by physical therapists, chiropractor Dr. Hank Glass, sports medicine physician Dr. Peter Loescher, certified athletic trainer Heidi McClellan, a second podiatrist, Dr. Paul Smith, and, the latest addition to the team, a second chiropractor, Dr. Michael Chamberland. A second sports medicine physician is expected to join the practice in September.

The first addition added physical therapy gym space and X-ray technology. This latest expansion adds more gym space, a third physical therapy treatment room, four new exam rooms, a start-of-the-art gait analysis system and wall mounted flat screens for viewing ultrasounds.

Visit the Sharon Health Center, a.k.a. Casa Rinaldi, at 12 Shippee Lane, just off Route 14, in Sharon. Call 763-8000.

Gene Parent in Gifford Gallery

Gene Parent in Gifford GalleryLocal artist Gene Parent’s watercolors, pen and ink drawings, pastels and more are in the Gifford Gallery until May 28.

Largely self-taught, Parent is a fourth-generation Vermonter who spent his youth in Richmond. He now lives in Brookfield with his family.

A member of the Vermont Watercolor Society, The Pastel Society and The Paletteers, Parent brings of diverse show of Vermont landscapes, farm animals and more in a variety of media.

Perhaps best known for his watercolors, he has received many first and second place awards for his works. He has shown throughout northern Vermont, including solo shows at Copley Woodlands in Stowe, the Cobblestone Café in Burlington, LaBrioche in Montpelier, the Chelsea Public Library, the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier, the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Barre and at Gifford.

“Art brings me intimately closer to everything I paint, from the rustling leaves to the flutter and song of little birds, the subtle sounds of running water and the distant mournful calls of a fledging crow,” Parent says. “I enjoy several media. Watercolors are the most exciting and challenging and pen the most fun, followed by pencil sketching.

Parent’s show is free and open to the public. The Gifford Gallery is just inside the main entrance of the Randolph hospital at 44 S. Main St. Call Gifford at (802) 728-2324 for more information.

Starr Strong, Dr. Brian Sargent Say Goodbye

Chelsea community welcomes new caregivers

Roger Sargent and Rebecca Savidge

Chelsea Health Center patient Roger Sargent of Tunbridge chats with his new physician assistant, Rebecca Savidge.

The metaphorical passing of the baton at the Chelsea Health Center Thursday afternoon was reminiscent of the perfect race. There was unparalleled effort, emotion and cheers of support.

On Thursday Chelsea welcomed new caregivers Dr. Amanda Hepler and Rebecca Savidge, both family medicine providers, and said goodbye to Dr. Brian Sargent and physician assistant Starr Strong.

Dr. Sargent is transitioning to full-time Emergency Department work, something that will allow him more time for sugaring, pruning apple trees and deer hunting, he said.

Strong is retiring after 21 years.

Ernest Kennedy and Starr Strong

Ernest Kennedy of Chelsea hugs retiring Chelsea Health Center physician assistant Starr Strong. To Kennedy, Strong is more than the local caregiver. She was the dear friend of his daughter Judy Alexander, who lost her battle with cancer on Sunday.

Community-owned, the health center is part of Gifford Health Care. Gifford Medicine Division Medical Director, and former Chelsea doctor, Josh Plavin introduced the outgoing and incoming teams.

Dr. Hepler comes to Chelsea from New Hampshire and, before that, a very rural practice in Maine. She was looking to find that again and has in Chelsea. “It’s been great so far. Everyone’s been very welcoming,” said the warm hearted Dr. Hepler.

“I think you grew up in this clinic,” Dr. Plavin said of Savidge.

“With Dr. Plavin,” she replied, indicating he was her caregiver.

Dr. Josh Plavin and Dr. Amanda Helper

Gifford Medicine Division Medical Director Dr. Josh Plavin introduces new Chelsea family physician Dr. Amanda Hepler.

“Which is not making me feel old at all,” he said.

Savidge practiced in Plainfield before coming home to Chelsea. “I appreciate the community letting me come back to the community as a provider,” she said to the standing room only crowd gathered in the health center’s waiting room.

Savidge thanked Dr. Sargent and Strong for building such an outstanding clinic and acknowledged that she and Dr. Hepler had some big shoes to fill.

Dr. Brian Sargent speaks

The crowd laughs as Dr. Brian Sargent says a warm goodbye to Chelsea patients. He has transitioned to full-time Emergency Department work at Gifford.

“I want to thank you all for trusting me with your care. Like Amanda, I’ve felt very welcome,” said Dr. Sargent who has practiced in Chelsea for five years.

But even for Dr. Sargent, the day was about Strong. “She’s (Strong has) been a joy to work with and a good friend. You won’t find a more compassionate person on the planet,” he said.

“Starr taught me about community,” Dr. Plavin added. “Starr taught me about relationships, as well as medicine, and is really the rock that has been the continuous presence all of this time. Starr is the Chelsea Health Center.”

Starr Strong and Virginia Button

Starr Strong, retiring Chelsea physician assistant, is embraced by patient Virginia Button of Chelsea.

Her patients who were present – and there were many – agreed.

“She’s been my doctor forever,” said Roger Sargent, a Tunbridge resident who has already transitioned his care to Dr. Hepler and Savidge. “I think she (Strong) has a nice lady taking her place, two of them.”

Virginia Button embraced Strong and didn’t let go.

“I’ve been with Starr since she’s been at the health center,” she said, tearing up. “It’s like you’ve lost part of your life.”

Joe Woodin and Starr Strong

Gifford President Joe Woodin and Starr Strong share a laugh.

But Button was optimistic.

“I’m sure the two that are here will fill her shoes,” she said, “eventually.”

Ernest Kennedy gave Strong three hugs. One for himself, one for his wife and one for his daughter, the late Judy Alexander, Strong’s dear friend and a former nurse at the Chelsea Health Center who passed away Sunday and whose loss was felt at Thursday’s gathering.

Kennedy was there to offer his support for Strong, who moved into Alexander’s home during a final days to provide constant vigil, but he wasn’t exactly supportive of Strong’s decision to retire. “She’s not old enough, and we need her.”

Strong disagreed, but not before expressing her thanks for the community’s support.

“I can’t tell you how rich I feel. I’m more grateful than I can tell you. The relationships we have when we go in and sit down and close the (exam room) door; that is a sacred spot.”

She is finally able to step away from those relationships, she says, because she is leaving her patients in the “graceful, beautiful and knowledgeable hands” of Dr. Hepler and Savidge. “It gives me joy in my heart rather than sadness in my soul,” Strong said.

Naturopath Offering Prenatal Series at Gifford

Erica Koch

Erica Koch

Naturopathic physician Dr. Erica Koch leads a Prenatal Health Series at Gifford for pregnant women and expectant families beginning May 15.

The series includes four Thursday classes that participants can take individually or as a whole. They are “Nutrition during Pregnancy” on May 15, “Herbal Medicine, Vitamins and Minerals during Pregnancy” on May 22, “Movement and Regeneration” on May 29 and “Mind/Body Medicine” on June 5.

“Nutrition during Pregnancy” covers eating well, meeting nutritional needs, food as medicine, environmental toxins and chemicals to avoid, food cravings and how to address them, and how to shop for food.

“Herbal Medicine, Vitamins and Minerals during Pregnancy” looks at nutrients to promote and maintain good health, and manage symptoms such as headaches, muscle spasms, fatigue, nausea and constipation. It also looks at herbs to avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

“Movement and Regeneration” with guest teacher Amy LePage focuses on yoga sequences to improve energy, relieve discomfort, aid in digestion and prepare for birth. The class also teaches breathing exercises to encourage relaxation and reduce stress.

Finally, “Mind/Body Medicine” teaches stress reduction and how to build resilience, increase awareness and support labor. It gives participants the tools to begin a daily self-care practice.

“These classes are for anyone who is interested in promoting health during pregnancy and managing symptoms naturally. The goal is to empower people with the knowledge and practices of a healthy lifestyle. Pregnant women have different needs and knowing how to address them in a safe and effective way is important. Women who are trying to conceive, who are pregnant, their partners and practitioners are all welcome to attend,” said Dr. Koch.

Dr. Koch is an experienced naturopathic doctor, educator, gardener and co-founder of Whole Systems Health, a non-profit organization focusing on nature-based education, health and resilience. She earned her doctor of naturopathic medicine degree from the National College of Natural Medicine, where she completed advanced training in women’s health and midwifery. She also holds a master’s degree from Rutgers University.

The classes will be held from 5-8 p.m. at Gifford in The Family Center beside Gifford Ob/Gyn and Midwifery at 38 S. Main St. (off Route 12) in Randolph.

Dr. Koch offers a sliding scale fee of $50-$75 for each class plus a $10 materials fee. E-mail her at erica.koch.nd@gmail.com to sign up or with questions.