2016-12-01 / Front Page

Some doctors not accepting new patients

By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


DR. THOMAS LAMMY of Suttons Bay Medical Clinic says the MCVIP program, which charges patients $1,650 per year up front, is the wave of the future. DR. THOMAS LAMMY of Suttons Bay Medical Clinic says the MCVIP program, which charges patients $1,650 per year up front, is the wave of the future. Leelanau County residents are having to drive farther to see their family physicians — that is, if they can find one who is taking new patients.

The Leelanau Urgent Care in Suttons Bay closed in October when Dr. David Lemak moved to Reno, Nev., and Dr. John Dunn, who had been practicing at that location for about three years, retired.

Creekside Clinic in Lake Leelanau, which was staffed by physician assistant Michelle McDonald, closed in early 2015. That building remains empty. Creekside recently merged with Crystal Lake Clinic, which has several sites in the Grand Traverse region and formerly owned a clinic in Empire. Munson Healthcare now owns that clinic.

The Suttons Bay Medical Clinic has three doctors and a nurse practitioner, but Dr. Jessica Paquette is not taking new patients and Drs. Phillip Siemer and Thomas Lammy only accept patients who subscribe to membership in their MDVIP program with its upfront fee of $1,650 per year, per patient.

But there are bright spots at both ends of the county, starting with Cherry Bend Family Care in Elmwood Township, where Drs. Rebecca Hoffman and Lara Madigan are taking new patients — though not those with Medicaid or Medicare insurance.

And Dr. Michael Ziter in Northport and Dr. Nicole Fliss in Empire are both taking new patients.

According to research released by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States will experience a shortage of physicians ranging from 61,700 to 94,700 over the next decade.

Ziter says he has taken on several new patients since Lemak closed his practice.

“Our door is open, always has been,” Ziter said. “We will at some point be expanding our hours to accommodate the need. We have always and will continue to accept new patients.”

Munson Healthcare, which owns the Suttons Bay building where Lemak had his urgent care practice, is actively recruiting for doctors to fill a variety of spots in Northern Michigan, said Dianne Michalek, director of communications for Munson.

“At this point there is not another doctor that stepped forward to take over that practice,” Michalek said. “We’re always looking for the best opportunities to place services close to where they’re needed. It shouldn’t be that difficult to recruit someone to Northern Michigan and Traverse City because it’s so beautiful.”

But it is difficult to attract doctors to practices in rural areas, Ziter said.

“Doctors like to work together because of the complexity of health care,” Ziter said. “They need to pool their resources because of the third party and governmental distractions.”

In Northport and throughout Leelanau Peninsula, providing health care becomes a little more challenging because of the fact that many patients are seasonal and transient.

“So it’s hard to keep a steady volume,” he said.

At Suttons Bay Medical, Lammy says the MDVIP program allows him to take on a small number of patients and provide their primary care, focusing on preventative care and early testing and detection.

And with a patient load of 200 to 400 patients versus 1,500 to 2,500 in a standard practice, he is available to patients on a daily basis if needed.

Reimbursement by both private and government insurance — Medicaid and Medicare — is down, and costs are up, Lammy said. That means doctors have to see more patients to pay the bills.

“What folks are starting to find out is it’s just harder and harder to get in and see your doctor,” Lammy said.

It is also why a lot of practices are failing and why primary care physicians across the country are moving into specialty fields, Lammy said.

Ziter has been in Northport for 16 years, starting as a physician with Leelanau Memorial Hospital. When the hospital closed in 2005, he opened a private practice.

For about a year Ziter’s clinic was partnered with Creekside Clinic, which also had an office in Lake Leelanau. After that partnership was amicably dissolved in 2014, Ziter stayed open on his own.

Urgent or injured patients can walk-in at any time, though a call to give the staff a heads-up is appreciated, Ziter said.

“Anyone sick or injured will be seen the same day,” he said, while new patients can expect to wait about a week for an appointment.

In Empire, the Empire Family Care is staffed by Fliss and owned by Munson Healthcare. The practice was the Crystal Lake Clinic for about two years and before that was Manitou Medical. The Empire site also has a pharmacy and a lab for blood draws.

Fliss moved back to the area about three years ago after practicing in Fairbanks, Alaska for several years.

In Northport, Ziter was recently joined by his son Jason Ziter, a physician assistant. The younger Ziter, whose experience includes urology, orthopedics and urgent care, moved to the area from Naples, Fla., in October.

Jason’s wife, Traci Ziter, works as a nurse and receptionist at the clinic. The couple recently bought a house in Northport, Ziter said.

And while the elder Ziter has no immediate plans for retiring, the plan is for his son to take over the practice when he does.

“Jason is committed to keeping the clinic open,” Ziter said.

Ziter said when the time comes for him to retire he will arrange for a supervising physician for Jason, who will not have to be on site.

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