The Paonia office of the North Fork Medical Clinic is open.
After the clinic wasn't listed among health care options for North Fork residents in a Delta County Memorial Hospital press release in the Aug. 12 edition of the Delta County Independent, Dr. Timothy Meilner said he received several inquiries about the clinic's status.
The sign for the office, located at the corner of Third Street and Minnesota Avenue, was recently removed, adding to the confusion.
Dr. Meilner has practiced family medicine for 21 years, and has worked at the clinic the past 19 years. He currently is the only care provider on staff after Dr. Michelle Hundley, physician's assistant Shawna McElroy, and family nurse practitioner Adam Zerr accepted positions outside the North Fork area. As a result of staff shortages, the Hotchkiss office is currently closed.
While the Paonia office is not accepting new patients, it is open four days a week, and closed either Wednesdays or Fridays. The office is staffed with two nurses, with a third nurse on temporary leave, receptionists, and two part-time medical records clerks. For now, the office does not provide X-ray services.
Dr. Meilner said he is determined to keep the office open and is considering all options. He is currently seeking a corporate partnership that makes it possible to keep the doors open, to rehire more practitioners, and possibly reopen the Hotchkiss office. "Right now things are still up in the air," said Meilner. "I really don't know what's going to happen."
Paonia Care and Rehabilitation, where Dr. Meilner has been the medical director for more than a decade, is partnering with the clinic to provide interim managerial and operational support staff. Administrator Loretha Barnes-Rolf and Melissa Johnson "have been so helpful," said Meilner.
North Fork Clinic patients needing an on-call doctor will get a response 24/7, thanks to a partnership that puts him and other area doctors in an on-call rotation. In the event urgent care is needed, a trip to the DCMH emergency room may be necessary.
Closure of small, rural clinics is occurring on a national level and for a variety of reasons, said Meilner, from rising costs of education to complying with the Affordable Care Act. The cost of offering care providers a package that will allow them to work in a small town while earning a living and covering massive college debt is increasingly difficult for small clinics.
The clinic has been in operation for at least 60 years, and Dr. Meilner remains confident the doors can remain open. He and wife Shauna, a DCMH nurse, have roots in the valley and two children in high school.
"Access to healthcare is an important community resource, especially when the closest hospital is 30 miles away," said Dr. Meilner. "We very much appreciate the outpouring of support we've received as we weather yet another transition."
Added Dr. Meilner, "Our hearts are with the North Fork people. That's what's keeping us here."
Needlerock Family Health Clinic, 375 Elm Avenue in Crawford, is also open. Family nurse practitioner Jenny Mitchell and her staff provide all aspects of family care and are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. They can be reached at 921-5501 or 921-5440 (fax).