Pennsylvania native Amanda Hepler knew from a young age that she would become a doctor.
“Pretty much from when I was very little, I wanted to be a doctor,” says Hepler, whose mother was a radiology technologist and often the go-to person for medical questions.
At Grove City College in Pennsylvania, Hepler studied molecular biology. Medical school at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia followed. Her residency in family medicine was at Latrobe Family Medicine Residency, also in Pennsylvania.
When it came time to start work, Dr. Hepler looked for a rural practice and found it at Rangeley Family Medicine in a community of 1,200 in Maine. There for four years, Dr. Hepler was the lone physician, caring for all ages, doing home visits and addressing emergencies as they arose.
From Maine, Dr. Hepler went to work at Cheshire Medical Center, part of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene, in New Hampshire. The role meant working in a multi-physician practice, overseeing nurse practitioners and physician assistants, caring for patients in a skilled nursing facility and working to meet quality goals as part of an Accountable Care Organization. It lacked one thing, however: rural roots.
It’s Dr. Hepler’s passion to care for whole families.
“I always pictured myself working in a rural area,” Dr. Hepler said. “Family medicine is called family medicine because you’re supposed to be taking care of a whole family. You can learn a lot more about a person from first-hand experience with a family. You have a true family history.”
Dr. Hepler is now rediscovering her passion for rural medicine as the latest member of the Chelsea Health Center team.
The rural clinic is part of Gifford Health Care and was recently named a Federally Qualified Health Center by the Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“It just felt right,” says Dr. Hepler of joining the Chelsea team, which includes physician assistant and Chelsea native Rebecca Savidge and physician assistant Starr Strong, a veteran Chelsea caregiver who will soon retire.
Dr. Hepler is board certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and a member of the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
A kind and compassionate caregiver who quickly creates a relaxing environment, Dr. Hepler works hard to listen to patients, get to know them and help them make the best decisions to improve their health. She has special clinical interests in caring for whole families, women’s health, diabetes management and caring for children.
Dr. Hepler is currently living in Randolph while she searches for a home for her and her dog, Cosmo, closer to Chelsea. (She notes patients have already been helpful and welcoming as they call with leads on rentals.) In her free time she enjoys snowshoeing and hiking with her dog, kayaking, and flower and vegetable gardening.
Dr. Hepler is now seeing new patients. Call her at the Chelsea Health Center at (802) 685-4400.
Rebecca Savidge grew up in Chelsea, attended the local school and is now the latest health care provider at the Chelsea Health Center.
From her years at the Chelsea Public School, Savidge went on to the University of Vermont where she majored in biology with a chemistry minor. After graduating magna cum laude in 2009, she was part of the inaugural class of the physician assistant master’s degree program at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire.
During her schooling, she completed training rotations at medical centers throughout Vermont and New Hampshire, including Gifford, the South Royalton Health Center, Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin, N.H., Central Vermont Medical Center, Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, Little Rivers Health Care in Wells River, The Health Center in Plainfield, and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
Since graduating nearly two years ago, Savidge has worked at The Health Center in Plainfield providing family medicine. She loved the job, but not the drive from Chelsea, where she lives.
A job at Gifford meant not only work close to home, but work at a hospital she respects and in a community she knows well.
“I love that Gifford is a community-based hospital with a range of ancillary patient services and it still feels accessible,” says Savidge, calling the rural medical center both well thought of in the community and among other hospitals.
“Chelsea is a special community because people choose to give back,” she adds. “A huge attraction of working at the Chelsea Health Center is taking care of people you understand and feel connected to.”
Savidge is certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. She has special clinical interest in preventative care, women’s health, chronic care, small procedures and urgent care.
In addition to work in Chelsea, Savidge will work half a day a week in Randolph in the primary care office’s urgent care clinic.
Patients should expect a partner and collaborator in Savidge.
“I like to use shared, informed decision making within a patient-provider team model. Patients active in their care leads to better outcomes.”
In a small community where neighbors are friends, Savidge puts a large emphasis on respecting patients’ privacy.
Savidge is currently building a house in Chelsea with her husband. In her free time she enjoys the outdoors, including cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and pick-up soccer games in town, as well as gardening and reading.
Call Savidge at Chelsea Health Center at 685-4400. The health center, a modern new facility offering family care as well as pharmacy services and mental health, is off Route 110 just north of the village.
Starr Strong was born in Brookfield and still lives there today. Married to John Button of Chelsea, the couple has two grown children. In her free time, Starr enjoys gardening, skiing, kayaking, and hiking.
Starr has been a physician assistant for 31 years, including 19 years at the Chelsea Health Center as well as at Gifford’s Randolph and Bethel practices and Vermont Technical College’s student health center.
Her greatest love, professionally, is the Chelsea Health Center and the long-term relationships she has forged with generations of families there. At a rural practice, she says, people matter and she is able to spend time with her patients. “It is a privilege in life to make a place your own, to grow a life that is bigger than just yourself,” she says.
Below is her story as told in her own words, as featured in our 2012 Annual Report.
“When I was young, it took me a long time to sort out what I wanted to do with my life. Through traveling and experiments with lifestyles, I discovered a new profession – physician assistant – that appealed to me. It fit my personality (rebellious) and, I hoped, my potential. In 1979 I told my potential educators that I wanted to be a family practitioner in a rural health center. Three decades later, that vision has evolved into a challenging and fulfilling life.
Top left: Strong examines a curious Xabian Bring in 2009. Bottom: A 1996 portrait of Strong reviewing a patient chart with a co-worker.
My family’s ancestral home is a humble hill farm in Brookfield. I’ve known all my life that it is my true home. In 1981 when I was completing physician assistant (PA) school, I met with Phil Levesque, Gifford’s president at the time. He told me that Gifford didn’t have a place for me and he doubted that the Medical Staff would accept a PA in the years to come. I kept knocking on the door, and nearly 20 years ago I got an opportunity to “try it” in Chelsea. I was the first PA at Gifford, the first non-physician provider in Chelsea, and the only woman to practice there.
“The door” in Chelsea was opened to me largely by the gracious support of Dr. Brewster Martin who became my teacher, mentor, advisor, very dear friend, and, eventually, my patient. Brewster was the wisest person I have known and his influence on my life is immeasurable. I promised him that I would practice in Chelsea for 20 years and I am nearly there. During our lunchtime chats we shared the deepest thoughts and concerns in our hearts, and we shared funny stories. It was a privilege to be his friend and I miss him every day.
Family medicine is at least as much about relationships as it is about science. The depth of that trust can be built through years of commitment and listening. I am fascinated by the richness of families and individual’s lives, their dignity and fears, joys and sorrows. I am humbled by the courage I witness, and am grateful for the privilege of such trust.
Just like with Brewster, some of my fondest and most challenging experiences are with those I know best. I especially treasure my relationship with Judy Alexander, a woman who is my patient, friend, and co-worker. She has taught me a lot about humor and the joy of sarcasm, and she strengthens my love of play. Her courage in facing the battle of her life keeps me grounded, humble, and ever so appreciative of the fullness of life. I treasure that we will walk this road together as far as it takes us.
I love this place.”
~ Starr Strong, PA-C
Chelsea Health Center physician assistant
Friends and co-workers Judy Alexander and provider Starr Strong share smiles and laughter.
CHELSEA – A new Healthier Living Workshop series begins May 15 and continues Tuesdays through June 19 at the Chelsea Health Center – this time in the evenings, from 6-8:30 p.m.
Healthier Living Workshops are six-week classes for people with chronic conditions and their caregivers. They are offered for free throughout the year by Gifford Medical Center as part of the Vermont Blueprint for Health. The workshops are led by trained facilitators and are designed to help improve strength, flexibility and endurance. They also provide tips for managing medications, eating healthier and improving communications with family and friends.
The goal is to help people better manage their health conditions and deal with the frustration, fatigue and pain that can accompany a chronic disease.
Participants also benefit from meeting other people with chronic conditions, learning how they cope and enjoying the camaraderie of knowing that they are not alone in how they’re feeling, notes Gifford workshop coordinator Susan Delattre.
According to the Vermont Department of Health, past participants report increased energy, reduced stress, more self-confidence and fewer doctors’ visits as a result.
Gifford Healthier Living Workshop participants have called the series “very relaxed and you really felt free to express yourself” and said they most enjoyed “meeting people who understand what I am going through.”
To register or for more information, call Delattre at Gifford at (802) 728-2118.
The Chelsea Health Center is just off Route 110, north of the village. Log onto www.giffordmed.org to learn more.
RANDOLPH – Gifford Medical Center is launching a new discussion group for the chronically ill and their caregivers.
To be held the second Wednesday of each month from 3-4 p.m. in the Randolph hospital’s Conference Center, the first meeting is Feb. 8 and will feature a talk by Chelsea Health Center family physician Dr. Brian Sargent.
Dr. Sargent will discuss chronic illnesses, which can include anyone with diabetes, asthma, COPD, Crohn’s disease, chronic pain, heart conditions, arthritis and much more.
The group is meant to offer both educational information and peer support.
“We’re encouraging people to learn through education and heal through friendships,” says LaRae Francis, Gifford’s Blueprint project manager.
The group is part of Gifford’s efforts to locally implement the Vermont Blueprint for Health, which aims to enhance care and self-management for the chronically ill.
Through the Blueprint, Gifford already offers Healthier Living Workshops. For those who have taken the workshops, this new group may be a welcome next step of ongoing support.
Participation in the Healthier Living Workshops is by no means required, however. The group is open to all, including those who are caring for or offering support to someone with a chronic illness.
Long-time Gifford diabetes educator and dietitian Jennifer Stratton will serve as the group’s facilitator with help from Gifford Blueprint staff.
The meetings are free. No registration is required.
The Conference Center is on the first floor of the medical center. Use the entrance marked with a green awning, or, for handicapped accessibility, take the elevator from the lobby to the first floor. Gifford is at 44 S. Main St. (Route 12 south of the village) in Randolph. Learn more online at www.giffordmed.org.