May 14, 2011

Inland Family Care to open Monday in downtown Waterville

Two primary care providers setting up in The Concourse

By Scott Monroe
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- The heart of the city's downtown district will get a big boost when Inland Hospital opens a new family practice in The Concourse on Monday.

click image to enlarge

NEW OFFICE: Jessica Gammon, a medical assistant for Dr. John Bonney, makes calls in the new Inland Family Care office at The Concourse in Waterville. The primary care office will open Monday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Inland Family Care is in a 12,500-square-foot space that's been vacant since Ames Discount Stores closed a decade ago. The hospital has invested about $1.5 million to renovate the sprawling area into a modern office with room to grow.

A handful of city officials and community leaders toured the offices Friday afternoon, hailing it as a much-needed jolt of activity.

"Having hundreds of patients here a week will enormously impact downtown," said Kimberly Lindlof, president of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.

The practice, at 16 Concourse West, is beside the Family Dollar store. The hospital is leasing the space and has been renovating it for the last seven months.

During the tour, John Dalton, CEO of Inland Hospital, turned to Dana Sennett, chairman of the City Council and a candidate for mayor.

"It doesn't quite look like the Ames department store, does it Dana?"

"It's got the 'wow' factor," Sennett said.

The practice will open with two primary care providers -- John Bonney, a doctor, and Jennifer Penney, a nurse practitioner -- and is seeking to hire four more. Bonney previously ran his practice in a much smaller suite at Inland Hospital, off Kennedy Memorial Drive.

With other additional office staff, there will eventually be 25 to 30 people working at Inland Family Practice, Bonney said. Inland already operates 18 small family practices throughout northern Kennebec and Somerset counties, so the hospital aims to make the new Waterville practice its flagship location for primary care, Bonney said.

Bonney said he and Penney expect to serve more than 150 patients initially, and as many as 400 or so when the other four providers arrive.

The new location in The Concourse will help expand health care access for patients, Bonney said, since it will be in walking distance for many of them. Many of his patients are elderly and are covered by MaineCare, the state Medicaid program.

The practice, Bonney said, provides a novel concept for patients: no need to schedule an appointment weeks or months in advance. Patients are seen within a day or two of inquiring, which Bonney calls "open-access scheduling."

"One of the models here is to improve patient access," Bonney said. "It's one of the cornerstones for how we run this practice."

And it's not your traditional doctor's office. For instance, Bonney said the hospital is in negotiations with Kennebec Behavioral Health to lease space to provide mental-health services, too.

Inside the building, the interior stretches back and reveals offices for case managers. The heart of the office are two wide-open spaces, with exam rooms and provider offices on the perimeter and desks for medical assistants in the center. Those assistants act as go-betweens for the patients and providers.

In the back are more rooms for future growth, plus a large conference-style room and table that will be used by patients and providers, for a mixture of informational and social sessions. Using electronic medical records, Bonney said the staff is also able to target its care toward groups of patients, such as those with diabetes, for "population management."

"It's a generational thing in terms of where primary care is going," Dalton said.

Even though there is a national shortage of physicians, Dalton said the hospital is not having any difficulty recruiting them to the practice because of the city's many attractions, from its downtown restaurants and cultural scene, to its recreation trails, colleges and schools.

"We can sell it," Dalton said. "We will bring them in from anywhere. It's a good community to recruit to."

And bringing hundreds of people, both employees and patients, to the location could also benefit local businesses, Dalton said.

Shannon Haines, director of the nonprofit Waterville Main Street, said during the tour that she sees the practice becoming a key feature of the downtown area.

"I think its impact is going to be huge," she said. "The foot traffic alone will have an impact."

Scott Monroe -- 861-9239

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