By M. LISA MONROE
The Town of Webb Health Center has faced a challenging flu season, especially for its youngest patients. The center is currently staffed by a doctor and a nurse practitioner, only one of whom has the credentials for treating pediatric patients. Dr. Thomas Socash sees all of the practice’s pediatric patients, around 200 kids.
Dr. Michael Attilio, the vice president of medical groups and physician practices at the Mohawk Valley Health System, says that MVHS only credentials doctors for pediatrics if they’ve had pediatric experience.
MVHS, who runs the Health Center, is looking for another physician in our are, but there is a shortage of general practitioners, and it’s even more difficult to find them for a rural area.
“It’s hard to find G.P.s, there’s a shortage nationwide, and it’s worse in Central New York. Primary care is an underrated specialty.”
Attilio says that if six primary care physicians showed up at his door tomorrow, he could easily put them all to work. Unfortunately, that’s not a scenario that is very likely to happen. There are 26 percent fewer general practitioners than there are specialists nationwide according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The Old Forge office is not a very high volume office and would normally just be staffed with two providers, according to Attilio. The problem is that the population in Old Forge fluctuates greatly depending on the seasons.
“We see more episodic care in the Town of Webb,” said Attilio. “We should definitely have a provider in place for the upcoming summer.”
MVHS plans to emphasize recruiting and retaining primary care physicians in the coming year.
“We are going to try to entice the ones that are out there and refocus in a way that will help recruit providers and create a more positive environment for existing providers,” he said.
Health Center Supervising Nurse Laura Cooper says that she thinks that two doctors are sufficient during the slower winter months, but that having one pediatric provider is a challenge.
“Yes, there are days that we are slammed, but usually we have enough people. But we can’t take any new pediatric patients at this time. It’s frustrating, but if we get another person in over the summer that will help,” Cooper said.
The work flow at the Health Center has slowed down quite a bit over the last few years due to electronic charting, Cooper said.
“We can’t see many more patients than we do now, we’re at our max. The electronic charting really slows things down and there are new things [that need to be charted] all of the time. Entering all of that information limits how many patients can be seen in one day,” said Cooper.