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.”

Roll in Excellence: Materials Management

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

roll in excellence

When a patient arrives for surgery, they see doctors and nurses, but it takes a much bigger, behind-the-scenes team to ensure the operating room is ready to provide care. Materials Management, which purchases supplies and handles deliveries for the entire medical center, is one department that is especially vital, says Surgical Services Nurse Manager Jamie Floyd.

“Every single thing we do relies on specialized equipment and tools. Nearly all of this equipment is either disposable or has a disposable component. Materials Management provides excellent service and handles the complex logistics of ensuring that we have the items we need, when we need them.”  ~ Jamie Floyd

Gifford materials management department

Materials clerks Tina Brady and Alice Whittington, surgery nurse manager Jamie Floyd, shipping and receiving clerk Josh Fahnestock, and purchasing specialist Teresa Bradley.

One Large Serving of Smiles: Room Service

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

one large serving of smiles

Jane Currier of Randolph Center spent weeks at Gifford, including Thanksgiving and Christmas, after a fall where she injured her head and fractured her shoulder. A bright spot in the 84-year-old’s day were meal deliveries by Simon Leong of the Food and Nutrition Services team. Both remember the day they met well.

“Who are you?” Jane recalls Simon asking. “I said, ‘I’m Jane.’ And he said, ‘I’m Tarzan.’ And we kept it up. He’s very friendly. He never forgets names. He’s somebody to talk to. He’s funny. He’s a character. I think I’ll keep him and take him home.”  ~ Jane Currier

Gifford cook Simon Leong

Cook Simon Leong and Jane Currier

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

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.

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.

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.

Certified Nurse Midwife Joins Randolph, Berlin Practices

April Vanderveer

April Vanderveer

April Vanderveer, a certified nurse-midwife and women’s health nurse practitioner, has joined the Gifford Ob/Gyn & Midwifery team.

Vanderveer is an experienced birthing center nurse who went on to nurse midwifery school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She also has a bachelor’s of science degree from the University of Vermont and a bachelor’s in nursing degree from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

It was her own Vermont birthing experience that prompted Vanderveer to pursue a nursing and then a midwifery degree. “I had an absolutely wonderful midwife, and she inspired me to look into it,” said Vanderveer, a native of California who moved to Vermont in 1991.

Vanderveer worked for 11 years at Copley Hospital in Morrisville as a Birthing Center nurse learning to care for moms and babies before and while in midwifery school.

As part of her schooling, she did nine months of clinical training at Gifford. “I just really liked the culture here. The midwives and the Ob nurses were really fantastic, and I just felt like this is where I wanted to work,” she said.

She realized that dream this month when she joined certified nurse-midwives Meghan Sperry, Kathryn Saunders and Maggie Gardner in practice at Gifford in Randolph and the Gifford Health Center at Berlin.

Vanderveer calls Gifford’s midwifery team a “cohesive group.” “I’m really excited to join a team of excellent practitioners,” she said.

Vanderveer is board certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board. Because of her unique training as a women’s health nurse practitioner, her clinical interests include women’s care across the lifespan.

She describes her approach as collaborative, where the patient is a member of the care team. She also strives to incorporate evidence-based practices (best standards of care) into patient’s individualized needs and goals.

Vanderveer lives in Waterville. She is married to a chef, Chase Vanderveer, and previously owned Winding Brook Bistro in Johnson with him. Together they have three children, ages 13, 14 and 17. Vanderveer enjoys the outdoors, kayaking and downhill skiing, as well as cross-country skiing, hiking, gardening and playing Frisbee golf on the family’s property.

Call Vanderveer or another member of the Gifford midwifery team in Randolph at (802) 728-2401 or in Berlin at (802) 229-2325.

Pioneer Physician Assistant Retires

Starr Strong blazed a new role for 21 years at Chelsea Health Center

Starr Strong

Starr with a baby

Physician assistant Starr Strong retires on May 1 after 21 years at the Chelsea Health Center. Robin Palmer, a former journalist who now does marketing at Gifford, sat down with Strong this week to get her reflections on her career and two decades of commitment to the Chelsea community.

CHELSEA – Starr Strong took a meandering path to health care.

Raised in Connecticut, she studied eastern religion at Beloit College in Wisconsin and went on to travel in India and Nepal and work a variety of jobs, including for a childhood lead prevention program in Massachusetts and counseling troubled teens.

A self-described hippie, wherever she went she found a cabin in the woods to live with her dog, usually with no electricity. She “played pioneer,” she said.

She contemplated a career in social work, but after traveling found herself drawn to a relatively new career – that of a physician assistant.

Despite a complete lack of experience in medicine, as a white person traveling in India and Nepal she was often called upon by villagers to help with illness, she said. “They bring you their wounds. They bring you their sickness. I found that I loved it.”

Duke University had started the first physician assistant program following the Vietnam War for returning medics looking to put their skills to work, Strong recalled. Wake Forest University in North Carolina was one of the schools to follow. Strong entered physician assistant school at Wake Forest in 1979.

Coming home to Vermont

Starr Strong

Starr with a patient in 1996

She came to Vermont in 1981 while in physician assistant school to do what the industry calls a clinical rotation – like an internship – with local ob/gyn Dr. Thurmond Knight and midwife Karen O’Dato. It was not her first experience in Vermont, however.

Strong calls growing up in Connecticut “a mistake.” “I knew that I was so supposed to be here,” she said.

Strong’s family came from Brookfield. As a child they would visit the family homestead several times a year. Strong recalls her mother telling at her the end of one trip when she was 5 or 6 that is time to go home. “But I am home” was Strong’s reply.

Strong is the sixth generation to own that Brookfield property, where she still lives with husband John Button and one of her two children, Dylan, 28. Twenty-four-year-old daughter Maylee lives in Chelsea.

When she first came home to that old farmhouse with no running water, Strong envisioned a job at Gifford in Randolph, but long-time hospital Chief Executive Officer Phil Levesque told her no, repeatedly.

“I knocked on Gifford’s door every year,” said Strong. She repeatedly heard that the Medical Staff just wasn’t ready for a physician assistant, and might never be.

The hospital had just one private practice nurse practitioner affiliated with it at the time. The concept of a physician assistant – now commonplace in the industry – was completely new.

Starr Strong

Starr in 1996

Strong went to work for Planned Parenthood for a dozen years. She worked mostly in Barre doing gynecological exams and talking about birth control. But still she knocked on the door.

The door to Gifford edges open
In early 1993, the door creaked ajar. The hospital agreed to trial Strong in Chelsea a day and a half a week alongside new physician Dr. George Terwilliger, who had replaced retiring physician Dr. Brewster Martin.

Strong was Gifford’s first physician assistant and the first female health care provider at the Chelsea Health Center.

Martin made sure Strong stuck.

“He was incredible,” she recalled. He introduced her around time, advocated for her and he came during many a lunch hour to the Route 110 health center to chat.

The duo formed a mentor-mentee relationship and a strong friendship. They’d save up stories and thoughts to share. They talked about suffering and loss, life and death, and whatever they found funny.

“He was the wisest person I’ve known in my life. It was quite a blessing and I don’t use that word very often,” said Strong.

What she remembers most was that he would ask her thoughts on a subject.

“He gave me confidence,” she said. “I had so much respect for him that him asking me what I thought was enormous.”

Starr Strong

Starr in 2008


Soon Strong was working at other Gifford health centers, including in Bethel, at the student health center at Vermont Technical College, in Randolph and recently in Berlin. Chelsea, however, has been a constant.

She promised Martin she would stay in Chelsea for 20 years. This year marks 21.

Just the right fit in Chelsea
Strong found a home at the Chelsea Health Center.

“Chelsea’s an old time family community and people are fiercely independent and have a lot of pride. If they don’t have anything, it doesn’t matter. It’s down to earth,” Strong said.

For a woman loath to “lipstick and high heels,” it was just perfect.

And like with Martin, she formed relationships there.

“Medicine is not just a science. Medicine is an art and it’s about relationships and it’s about developing relationships with people,” she said.

Those relationships have come with generations of patients and with co-workers like nurse Judy Alexander, who became the closest of friend.

“She just made me laugh. I could call her at 4 o’clock in the morning and she would be at my house at 4:30, and you don’t get that in life often.”

Starr Strong

Starr with friend and patient Judy Alexander in 2012

Alexander is also a patient of Strong’s – a patient who is in the very end stage of terminal cancer. Like so many of her patients, Strong has been at Alexander’s bedside.

“At the beginning of my career, I thought birthing was my ticket and then I took care of a dying person and found that that is really where the juice is,” she said, noting the courage one witnesses in illness and death.

Alexander’s illness and waiting for just the right new providers to join the Chelsea Health Center in her place have in part kept Strong working past that 20 years she promised Martin.

A new chapter
But now she is ready.

Strong is 62, struggles with pain caused from arthritis in her spine and is slowing down. “I don’t have that vitality anymore,” she said.

And she wants to be home. Her husband has been building a new house on that family homestead in Brookfield. “I want to be there to finish it, and have the time to move in.”

She wants to travel and ski and kayak and garden and make stained glass and spend more time with her 95-year-old mom.

She can do all this because of family medicine providers Dr. Amanda Hepler and physician assistant Rebecca Savidge. Like Strong did 21 years ago, they have joined the Chelsea Health Center.

Dr. Hepler comes from Maine and has a passion for rural medicine and Savidge is a Chelsea native. They’re skilled and compassionate and plan on staying for a very long time. Strong couldn’t be happier.

“Once patients meet them, they’re going to love them,” Strong said.

In fact, they’re so great to be around that Strong anticipates a few visits to Chelsea of her own.

“Now I’m going to be the lunchtime girl,” she said, thinking back to those lunches with the retired Martin.

Wish Strong well in her retirement and meet Dr. Hepler and Savidge at a May 1 open house being held from 4-6 p.m. at the Chelsea Health Center that is open to all.

Sprinkle on Support: Nutrition Counseling

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

Cindy Legacy

Cindy Legacy and dietitian Stacy Pelletier

For six months leading up to her bariatric surgery, Cindy Legacy of Randolph met with registered dietitian Stacy Pelletier and has kept in touch in person and via e-mail since. Cindy lost 30 pounds before her surgery and another 80 pounds since, for a total 110 pounds of weight loss. More importantly, she experienced a major improvement in her
health, in part thanks to Stacy’s continued help.

“She is a wonderful, wonderful , wonderful support person. I wanted to succeed. She wanted me to succeed. She listened to what I had to say and made me feel like she really cared about what I was trying to do. There was no judgment. She’s like a security blanket. I can go and say, ‘What do I do?’”
~ Cindy Legacy