Eastern Plumas Health Care is working to expand its specialty services, and in this era of economic fear and downsizing, that might come as a surprise.
The way Chief Executive Officer Tom Hayes explains it though, it just makes sense, especially because EPHC is at a distance from larger medical centers where these services regularly occur.
Specialists that EPHC cannot support full time, are being courted by Hayes to provide clinics a few times a month. He's already signed on Dr. Sam Nourani, a gastroenterologist who belongs to a thriving Reno, Nev., practice.
Nourani comes to Portola twice a month and, after three months, saw 23 patients in July.
In addition to seeing patients at his clinic for GI and liver system complaints, he's doing procedures such as colonoscopies, including colon cancer screenings, and endoscopies. He also treats all types of liver diseases, as well as pancreas, gall bladder and stomach complaints, he said.
During a procedure at EPHC, if the patient needs care that's more specialized than the hospital can offer, he can see Nourani in Reno. His follow-up care, however, can occur back at EPHC, near home.
This means, said Hayes, no long drives when the patient least needs that experience. It also means he has the support of family and friends nearby.
It is, in effect, the best of both worlds. Now, Hayes is talking to a dermatology group in Reno to see if it will offer clinics here, as well. There are a good number of patients who would utilize dermatology services if they were available he said.
Hayes has been working diligently to cement a relationship with Tahoe-Forest in Truckee. He's talked to CEO Bob Schapper about the possibility of bringing over an ear, nose and throat specialist among other possibilities, further cementing that bond.
Tahoe-Forest collaborates with U.C.-Davis for cancer services, and Hayes has been pushing the idea of bringing some of those services to EPHC and Plumas District Hospital in Quincy.
Chemotherapy and IV infusion therapy could be offered locally said Hayes. Again, the benefit to a cancer patient of receiving the service in her own community would be immense.
Hayes has been talking with PDH CEO Dick Hathaway and Seneca Health Care's Doug Self for almost a year about finding ways to collaborate. They're working to recruit a surgeon with the hope he can work with Dr. Jensen to offer more coverage and all three hospitals can utilize his services.
There's also a urologist, said Hayes, who travels to Quincy from Reno to offer clinics there. Hayes is going to contact him and see if he'd be willing to make a stop in Portola.
Finally - perhaps the icing on the cake - is Mary Morrison, a nurse practitioner. She worked most recently for a GI specialist in Truckee who decided to cut back his hours.
She's now at EPHC where she brings her knowledge of this specialty, and is hoping to work regularly with Dr. Nourani.
In addition, she's getting back into the swing of things, offering her services in family practice and pediatrics.
Morrison's roots go deep in Portola. Her father worked for the railroad, and her mother worked at the old Western Pacific Hospital in Portola as the head cook. In fact, Morrison was born in that hospital.
She began her career in nursing at the WP Hospital as a nurse's aide at age 14. She received her nursing degree at Chico State.
When the "new" EPHC opened in 1971, Mary Morrison was there. Her mother was still working for the hospital at the time.
While at EPHC the first time around, Morrison was director of nurses and in charge of infection control. One of her favorite jobs, though, was teaching Lamaze classes. In those days, the hospital had a very active labor and delivery department, she said. Of 52 births in a year, she'd help deliver 47 or 48 of them.
She loved the fact that she'd see the couples in Lamaze class, then in the delivery room and, after that, in family practice.
"I knew a lot of people. I got to know them while they had their kids and ... their grandkids," she said. "It's always been a privilege to be a part of people's lives here."
Later, she worked at PDH in Quincy. It's seldom that you hear rave reviews from both hospitals about someone, but that's what Morrison's name elicits in Portola and Quincy.
Now she comes with a deeper experience in the areas of gastroenterology, Crohn's Disease, ulcerative colitis, treating Hepatitis C, and managing Hepatitis B liver transplant patients.
Coming back to family practice, she's working to get up to speed and enjoying the process.
"It's wonderful," she said. "The other doctors and nurse practitioners have been very supportive."
In addition, Morrison enjoys having the chance to work with Nourani. She said she's seen quite a few patients with GI problems. "It's fun to find things I can fix. I've been sending patients to him, and I really like him," she said. "I've never sent people to someone I wouldn't go to myself," because she considers her patients "family."
That attitude of caring is behind EPHC's move to add specialists that can increase the quality of care for their patients and, at the same time, increase their comfort, by bringing essential support services close to home.
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