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New hospital doctors bolster Island's health care ranks
Even as Martha's Vineyard Hospital leaders look to replace their ramshackle facility with a new, modern medical building, another less visible transformation has already taken place at the Island's medical center. In the last six months, five new doctors have joined the hospital staff, bringing their own medical perspectives and skill sets to the delivery of health care on Martha's Vineyard.
They join a medical staff that includes veteran primary care practitioners Dr. Henry Nieder, Dr. Peter Laursen, Stuart Kendall, and Dr. Michael Goldfein, a pediatrician and hospital chief of staff, as well as a crop of new doctors hired by the hospital over the last several years to bolster the emergency, surgery, and primary care departments.
Dr. Gail O'Brien. Photos by Ralph Stewart
The latest hospital hires are the result of an ongoing effort to address the need, identified in numerous assessments of the community's health-care system, for more primary care doctors and the difficult financial environment new doctors face in setting up a private practice on Martha's Vineyard. That reality is responsible for the hospital's decision to hire doctors, as opposed to subsidizing private practices while waiting for new doctors to become established - a practice that is no longer feasible, according to Tim Walsh, hospital chief executive officer.
Mr. Walsh said that, including pediatricians, there are now nine hospital-based primary care doctors. The three physicians who maintain private practices in the hospital - Drs. Nieder, Goldfein, and Laursen - are part of an ongoing discussion among all of the staff aimed at creating a hospital group practice.
Mr. Walsh said that arriving at the right number of doctors is an imperfect science that requires a careful assessment of the community's needs and the physicians' experience. He said that with the recent loss of two experienced and well-respected Island doctors, Drs. Bill Tsikitas and Ilene Klein, it is important to have a blend of newly trained and seasoned professionals.
Dr. Julia Stunkel.
The newest doctors bring a mix of professional and academic experience. All had an existing relationship to the Vineyard that prompted them to seek a job with the Martha's Vineyard Hospital.
Dr. Marc Shapiro, a 1989 graduate of Tufts University School of Medicine, joined the hospital emergency room staff in July. Previously he worked in the Rhode Island Hospital Department of Emergency Medicine, taught emergency medicine at Brown Medical School and was the director of the Rhode Island Hospital Medical Simulation Center, a high-tech training facility he helped to design.
Dr. Shapiro and his wife, Dr. Gail O'Brien, were longtime seasonal visitors and owned a home in Oak Bluffs before moving here full-time. The opportunity to spend more time with their two boys and be a part of a community they had only enjoyed as summer visitors was the driving force behind their decision to relocate.
After six months on the job, Dr. Shapiro said he thinks the hospital administration is committed to providing the highest level of medical care possible, and he is encouraged by the prospect of a new facility.
Dr. John Lamb.
At Rhode Island Hospital, the emergency medicine department alone had 80 beds, three times as many as all the beds in the entire hospital here. However, Dr. Shapiro said that despite its small size, the local emergency room (ER) offers plenty of challenges, particularly during the busy summer months. "There are definitely plenty of things to keep you interested, that's for sure," he said.
Looking for a change in pace, the Vineyard was a natural choice because she and her husband already owned a house and had heard good things about the hospital from Dr. Jeffrey Zack, an ER physician and friend. After six months, Dr. O'Brien is not disappointed. She said, "There are a lot of good things happening." She described Tim Walsh as a good leader with a vision for getting the physicians to work together as a team to provide a strong base of primary care and more services for the community.
Dr. Marc Shapiro.
Dr. Judith Fisher, a 1978 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, has an extensive medical and academic background in community health care and family medicine. She formerly taught at the University of Pennsylvania Department of Family Practice and Community Medicine where she developed a model for community health and taught a bio, psycho, social, cultural, economic approach to health care, a long phrase that describes a way of taking care of people within the context of their lives.
After visiting here for two weeks in August for the past 22 years, moving to the Vineyard was a long-deferred dream for Dr. Fisher - until December, when she moved into a house in West Tisbury with her two Labrador retrievers. "I used to have a solo practice in a rural area of New Jersey right outside of Princeton and I really loved the lifestyle of that community," she said. "Everybody sort of took care of each other the best way they knew how and my way was the medical side of it. So I wanted to reproduce it." Dr. Fisher said that as part of her family practice she would be accepting patients of all ages "from little league kids up to grandparents."
Dr. Judith Fisher.
Dr. John Lamb, a 1979 graduate of State University of New York medical school in Buffalo, arrived on the Island Jan. 1 and was at work one day later. Prior to moving to the Island, he was in solo private practice for 20 years in internal medicine, but he was associated with a large medical group located in Elmira and could consult with one of the many medical specialists located at Arnot Ogden Memorial Hospital.
Dr. Julia Stunkel, a 2001 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, recently completed her residency in family primary care at the Albany [New York] Medical Center.