DEER ISLE, Maine — Island residents can look forward to increased staffing and availability at the local clinic as Blue Hill Memorial Hospital tries to address local concern about access to medical care at the facility.
About 150 Deer Isle and Stonington residents gathered Wednesday night at the Reach Performing Arts Center in Deer Isle to hear a presentation by hospital administrators about upcoming changes at Island Family Medicine, the primary care clinic in Stonington that’s operated by BHMH.
Residents had expressed concerns about access at IFM, as well as triage services, at a series of focus groups held over the summer. They also said the clinic needed to offer substance abuse counseling.
Elizabeth Schidzick-Brunelle, vice president of Provider Practices at BHMH, said many of the concerns surrounding Island Family Medicine center on questions of supply and demand. Are there enough open slots for residents to get appointments? Are the right number of providers on the island?
“We don’t measure supply and demand very well in health care,” she said. “Starbucks knows how, Toyota knows how, but it’s something we don’t do well.” Schidzick-Brunelle said it will be an ongoing exercise to measure supply and demand in Deer Isle, but that residents’ concerns were heard loud and clear.
She and other administrators came with a list of improvements in the works for both Island Family Medicine and Blue Hill Memorial Hospital. They include: A 20 percent increase in physician scheduling hours at the clinic, Saturday hours at Blue Hill Memorial Hospital, to “provide an alternative to the emergency department,” extended evening hours at the island clinic starting this spring, and a substance-abuse counselor that will be stationed in Deer Isle one or two days per week.
Schidzick-Brunelle also said the hospital would hire an additional “RN care coordinator” and a new clinical assistant at the island clinic this spring, to help direct patients to the best venue for service — whether that’s an appointment with their doctor in Deer Isle or a trip to the emergency room at Blue Hill.
Also announced were changes to the hospital campus in Blue Hill: Since November, the emergency department there has been staffed exclusively by physicians, and the hospital has hired two “hospitalists,” physicians who work with patients admitted to the hospital. A seven-day rotating schedule will mean continuity for most patients by making it likely they’ll see the same doctor for each day they’re in the hospital.
A question-and-answer session was held after the presentation, during which many residents asked about access to urgent care for island residents — medical needs more dire than a routine visit but not life-threatening.
Despite the improvements slated for IFM, many residents were still concerned about a lack of access for urgent care. Blue Hill Hospital, and its emergency department, is 23 miles from Island Family Medicine. The crux of many questions was that residents feel there should be urgent care in Stonington.
One man recalled a story about accidentally running his finger through a table-saw blade. He called Island Family Medicine and asked whether he should come in or go to the emergency room.
“‘If you think you need stitches, you should go to the ER,’” he claimed he was told. “It was left to me to decide, looking at my finger, what I should do. I couldn’t see bone so I wrapped it up. The decision was left to me, and I’m not a physician.”
“If they’re calling because they’re hurting, driving 22 miles to the ER is not something they can do,” said another woman. “We have an ambulance, but the copay is $800.”
Schidzick-Brunelle said that without major infrastructure investment — both in equipment and staff — urgent care in Stonington would be impossible.
“It’s a family practice environment,” she said. “That typically means wellness, preventive-care types of things. When you introduce urgent care and emergent care, it’s not that simple.”
Administrators pledged to meet again with residents in six months to see how the planned changes are working out.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.