This 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.
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 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.
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.
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, 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.”
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.
The following article was published in our 2012 Annual Report.
Above left – One of Gifford’s newer providers, internal medicine physician Dr. Cristine Maloney, lives in Randolph and brings special training in palliative care to Gifford’s already robust advanced illness care program. Here she is pictured with patient David Wark of West Topsham. Above right – Emergency Department physician and clinical director Dr. Saul Nurok joined Gifford in 2010. Here he is shown with patient George Carr of Bethel.
Gifford is fortunate to have many long-serving health care providers, but the medical center would not be successful without the providers who have joined Gifford in more recent years.
Lured in part by the stability and quality provided by the very individuals highlighted in this year’s report, Gifford has welcomed new providers in almost every area of medicine.
For example, joining long-time pediatricians Dr. Lou DiNicola and Dr. Elizabeth Jewett, who have both been at Gifford for 36 years, are Dr. Joe Pelletier, now with Gifford for 10 years, and Dr. Pam Udomprasert, who joined more recently in 2011.
“Joe is now the cornerstone of pediatrics here,” says Dr. DiNicola.
At the Chelsea Health Center, long-time U.S. Navy family physician Dr. Brian Sargent joined physician assistant Starr Strong in practice in 2008. “I am especially appreciative of Brian,” Starr states, “and his commitment to the folks of this valley and the joy he takes in developing relationships in this unique place.”
In Bethel, family nurse practitioner and former emergency department nurse Emily LeVan joined long-time family physicians Dr. Mark Seymour and Dr. Terry Cantlin just this year. “Emily brings her wealth of emergency room experience and a firm commitment to primary care. She also has a strong tie to the area, working with her husband and family running a local farm,” Medicine Division Medical Director Dr. Josh Plavin says.
In the Emergency Department, Drs. Steven Fisher, Josh White, and Saul Nurok have filled the shoes of long-term physicians like Dr. Lucy Wollaeger, who retired from full-time work in 2012 after 21 years at Gifford.
“Often people’s first opinion of the hospital is through the emergency room, and Steve, Saul, and Josh are amazing,” Dr. Ken Borie, a family physician at Gifford for 32 years, says.
Anesthesiologist Dr. Dennis Henzig, a 20-year veteran of Gifford, has been joined by Drs. Jon-Richard Knoff in 2007 and Nazek Shabayek in 2012. Both of Gifford’s orthopedists, Dr. Stephanie Landvater and Dr. Bess Brackett, have come to Gifford within the last decade as Dr. Bill Minsinger prepared to retire.
Hospitalist medicine is a newer specialty. Consequently, it melds newer doctors and mid-level providers with experienced ones who have transitioned from another area of medicine, such as family care. Gifford’s certified nurse-midwifery team additionally melds newer and more experienced members. Ob/gyn physicians Dr. Anne Galante and Dr. Dina Levin have both joined Dr. Brent Burgee, a 27-year veteran of Gifford, and experienced gynecologist Dr. Ellamarie Russo-DeMara.
The most recent addition in the Randolph primary care office is family physician Dr. Barbara Lazar. “Barb brings a wealth of experience, particularly in geriatrics, and is an extremely competent and kind provider. She is an excellent long-term fit for our community-focused practice,” adds Dr. Plavin, who is also among those providers who have committed themselves to the community.
Most of Gifford’s newer providers – of which there are many more – are from the immediate area or have made it their home, raising children here and engrossing themselves in the community in a variety of ways.
Together – even as health care changes and recruitment, particularly of primary care physicians, becomes more and more challenging – they are carrying on the tradition of neighbors helping neighbors and of high-quality, accessible care in our communities.
Above left: Family physician Barbara Lazar joined Gifford in 2012, bringing a background in geriatric care. Above right – Certified nurse midwife Donna Butler, pictured here with a patient and her baby, only joined Gifford in 2010, but this Vermont native has more than 25 years of experience.
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.