HEALTH & WELLNESS
Faith is philosophy behind Birch Bay Family Medicine
By Ruth Higgins &
Money magazine rates good health care access in its criteria for judging the best places to live. Along with benign weather and a beautiful environment, many Birch Bay residents could cite Birch Bay Family Medicine as one of the advantages of living here and that may in part be due to the guiding philosophy and caring staff at the clinic.
That philosophy is a combination of religious values and an understanding that prevention of illness is superior to intervention.
Doctor Bruce M. Pederson, one of two full-time physicians at the clinic, says, “We discuss risk factors and lifestyle issues (smoking, diet and exercise) on every visit. We also encourage regular screenings (pap smears, mammograms and colonoscopies) with our patients.”
Birch Bay Family Medicine dates back to 1997 when doctors Pederson and Dale Petersen of Lynden Family Medicine bought the former Med+ Center at the junction of Birch Bay-Lynden and Harborview roads.
The following year, the Lynden and Birch Bay group of physicians expanded, changing from an independent practice association to a medical group, and taking the name Family Care Network. The Whatcom County based network consists of physicians, advanced nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses and support staff in 11 clinics and a medical testing center. Seven of the clinics are in Bellingham, as is the testing center; the county facilities are located in Ferndale, Lynden, Everson and Birch Bay.
At the Birch Bay clinic, the two full-time physicians, doctors Pederson and John Hiemstra, assisted part-time by nurse practitioner Teresa Regier, are able to see an average of 850 patients per month. In addition to caring for illnesses and injuries for all ages, they efficiently provide the routine office-based services such as physical examinations, obtaining blood, urine and other test samples, and administering immunizations. Minor procedures such as skin excisions and vasectomies are performed on-site.
The testing center extends the clinic’s capabilities, offering tests that include exercise treadmills, cardiac perfusion studies, nuclear medicine imaging, peripheral artery disease testing, ambulatory blood pressure monitoring and bone density testing for osteoporosis (all of which are also available to non-network providers).
The Family Care Network provides an economy of scale in contracting with insurance companies, supporting the testing center, performing peer review, monitoring performance standards, and financing advancements in efficiency such as the electronic medical record and on-line prescribing.
In 2006, the Birch Bay clinic joined 127 facilities in Washington State that the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) determined had met their conditions for certification as a Rural Health Clinic. RHCs are eligible for enhanced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, making it feasible for the Birch Bay practice to accept those patients. The RHC designation necessitated a specific name for the clinic in Birch Bay to differentiate it from the one in Lynden.
When asked about the name of the clinic because the sign on the building says, “Lynden Family Medicine,” Jená Sticklin, practice manager, for the Birch Bay and Lynden clinics, smiled and said, “Changing the sign is on the ‘to-do’ list.”
Changes brought on by the strict requirements of the RHC designation and pressures from the wider healthcare environment are affecting the services at the Birch Bay clinic.
Hiemstra says, “We have just one more baby scheduled for delivery, and then our obstetrics services will be referred to the Lynden and Ferndale clinics.”
Another recent change is the trend toward the creation of a hospitalist specialty, physicians trained to care for hospitalized patients. Currently, twelve hospitalists serve St. Joseph Hospital, and they may possibly provide care to admitted Birch Bay clinic patients in the future. This trade-off would free up more time for appointments in the clinic, while ensuring that hospital patients receive the latest, state-of-the-art care from specialists in that field.
Hiemstra said the staff at Birch Bay Family Medicine strives to contribute to the overall health of the community through a variety of ways: Pederson serves as the medical director at Stafholt Good Samaritan Center in Blaine; Hiemstra and nurse practitioner Regier attend health fairs; all of them said they view themselves as health resources for the community.
While the local group is composed of Christian doctors sharing a particular worldview and set of principles, the patient population, drawn from all over the county, represents many nationalities, cultures and religions.
The practice includes the gamut of religions, including Muslims, Sikhs and Pentecostals, and the non-religious. Pederson says, “We don’t attempt to convert anyone, we just try to radiate our faith and offer to pray with patients when they feel the need.” He adds, “Many studies show that having a strong faith is healthy.”
Birch Bay Family Medicine is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. They are located at 8097 Harborview Road in Birch Bay and can be reached by calling 360/371-5855.
Ruth Higgins and Al Krause are freelance writers who live in Birch Bay. Ms. Higgins has 30 years experience in healthcare quality management and education.