Courtesy of Caledonian Record (July 8, 2022)
Article by Kevin Doyon, Staff Writer
Photo credit: Keith Chamberlin
NEWPORT — Northern Express Care, a collaboration between Northern Counties Health Care and North Country Hospital, held its grand opening in Newport on Friday.
Located at 137 Main Street, the walk-in care center was an idea that has been in the works for just shy of a year and a half. With that goal finally brought to fruition, the doors will officially open to the community on Monday, July 11.
“Bringing walk-in primary care to the downtown is a really big deal for the Newport community,” NCHC Chief Strategy Officer Chris Towne said. “We really want the community to know that we are here to support them.”
Northern Express Care was an idea that had been in the works for a little over a year and a half. Towne says the demand for express care in Newport was expressed by community members because they wanted more convenient access to healthcare, particularly primary care. Both NCHC and NCH used health need assessments to gather insight from community members. As a result, the express care project was started as an answer to what they heard back.
“This vision started in the community,” NCH CEO Brian Nall said. “This is really a response from the community’s needs and desires for convenient access. This is not a profitable venture, this is a community venture where we are looking to contribute to the overall well-being.”
The facility also serves to reduce avoidable emergency room visits, since often times the visits could be handled by a walk-in center at a much cheaper cost.
“Our goals are fairly simple,” Towne said, “We want people to get the right care, at the right time, at the right place. We want to connect people to primary care. We know that there are community members that do not have an established primary care provider and we can help with that.”
“Working together, we can get Vermonters the care that they need when and where they need it,” added NCHC CEO Michael Costa.
Costa said he is grateful for the support of the initiative from the policymakers in the legislature throughout the process, which was begun and completed during the pandemic.
Governor Phil Scott attended and spoke at the event and Senator Bernie Sanders spoke via phone call. Sanders was introduced to the Newport location a few months prior and described Northern Express Care as a “very innovative and bold idea” that he hopes and expects will be replicated around the country.
“It is no great secret that in the United States, we have the most expensive health care system in the world,” Sanders said. “It is unaffordable and unsustainable. One of the many reasons that our health care system is so expensive is that there are millions of Americans who do not have a medical home and a doctor of their own. So when they get sick with a non-emergency problem, they go to the local emergency room which is far and away the most expensive primary healthcare in America.”
Sanders stated that it sometimes costs 10 times more to provide primary care to a patient than they would pay if they had gone to a community health center instead.
“So what NCHC and NCH are doing, is saying let’s figure a way to keep people out of the emergency room and give them good quality healthcare in the community,” Sanders continued. “This is a really, really important step forward.”
Sanders also spoke upon his vision to have the U.S. join every other major country and guarantee healthcare to all people as a human right.
“Our country still has tens of millions of people that are uninsured or under-insured that can’t seek medical attention or see a doctor when they need to,” he said.
In Vermont, over the last several decades, there has been progress made in expanding primary healthcare. According to Sanders, almost one-third of the people in Vermont go to community health centers spanning all across the state — with expansion still continuing to the southern parts of Vermont.
“Bottom line is, what we want to see in Vermont, is easy access to healthcare for everyone,” he said.
Costa introduced Gov. Scott by describing him as “the most genuine elected official that he has ever met.”
Photo credit: Keith Chamberlin
Scott used his time to speak on the importance and impact that a facility such as Northern Express Care has on the community. He touched upon the challenges that Vermonters had faced over the last few years, living through a pandemic and now figuring out how to live with the ongoing price inflation.
“But, here you all are,” Scott said, addressing the members of NCHC and NCH that were present for the ceremony. “On the front lines trying to work together to find solutions. This express care is part of the solution. A community coming together to do the right thing is part of the solution. Trying to find ways to help people every single day.”
Friday’s celebration featured a ribbon-cutting ceremony, serving as an official unveiling of the new facility. Ribbon-cutters included Nall; Frank Knoll, Chair of North Country Hospital Board of Trustees; Linne Humbargar, MMS, PA-C, Northern Express Care – Newport Provider; Jessica Kirby, FNP, Northern Express Care – Newport Provider; Casey Myers, Northern Express Care – Newport Practice Manager; Towne; Dan Sherman, NCHC Director of Primary Care; Craig Taylor, NCHC Director of Facilities; Bill Graves, Owner of Graves Builders; and Costa.
Once the ribbon had been cut, attendees were invited inside for an open house and tour of the new building and its amenities.
Northern Express Care is open to anyone, no appointment necessary, that needs a minor injury or illness treated. This can include, sprains, strains, bumps, bruises, minor cuts, cold and flu, sore throat, stomach issues, UTI, fever, minor skin irritation or rash, ear infection, pink eye, vaccinations etc. Essentially, instances where primary care is needed but emergency care can be avoided.
“It is not about big plans or fancy ideas,” Costa said. “It is about what can be done, each and every day, to make Vermont a little better and to make the lives of Vermonters better.”
Newport joins Lyndonville and St. Johnsbury as the third Northern Express Care location. Its hours will be Monday-Friday 9-7:30 and Saturday 9-3.