WEST WARWICK — In the 50th year since its founding, Thundermist Health Center is striving to continue its long-held mission of breaking down barriers to ensure Rhode Islanders have options when it comes to their primary care.
“You pretty commonly hear about patients who lose their primary care provider for one reason or another having to wait a really long time to establish care with a new primary care provider,” said Matt Roman, Chief Operating Officer of Thundermist.
To address that, Thundermist has been working on building its network of primary care providers.
“In terms of people accessing primary care, what we continue to do is grow our primary care,” Roman said. “If we see people are struggling out in the community to find a provider then we keep growing until there’s no longer an unmet need in the community.”
Founded in 1969 in Woonsocket—its South County center opened in 2001 after merging with Health Center of South County and its West Warwick location opened in 2003—the non-profit health center last year served 48,000 Rhode Islanders out of its three locations.
Roman touted the importance of taking a holistic approach in order to treat the “whole person.”
“We’re really tuned into patients’ experience,” Roman said. “We want people to have an awesome experience when they come to Thundermist—to feel like we took care of them.”
But that dedication to helping people feel taken care of extends also to those who work for the organization.
Thundermist realizes the value in offering a healthy work-life balance for its physicians and nurse practitioners, Roman said. And by realizing that, the organization in turn is better able to address the overall lack of primary care providers.
“I think it’s a very challenging field,” Roman said of the field of primary care, which as time stretches on sees fewer and fewer doctors entering.
Due in part to the administrative requirements that go along with being a primary care provider—duties like documentation, for example—Roman said there seems to be a high rate of burnout within the field.
“When electronic health records were brought into the picture, people thought it was going to make the work a lot easier,” he added. “And probably in some ways it has, but in some ways it’s made it more challenging.”
At Thundermist, however, several steps have been taken to lower the burnout rate.
By employing medical scribes who can handle a lot of the documentation, Roman said Thundermist physicians are better able to focus on patient care.
Workforce development programs also offer primary care providers “a varied work experience” as preceptors, which Roman said also leads to lower burnout. And through partnerships with other organizations, physicians and nurse practitioners are able to work in diverse settings.
“We’ve done a lot of creative things to make it a really good place to work,” Roman said.
Primary care providers are also surrounded by a “care team” so they don’t feel isolated. Through that team-based care, physicians at each Thundermist center work closely with medical assistants, nurses and behavioral health providers.
“So they can do really good care, but they don’t have to do it all themselves,” Roman continued, adding a physician working in a private practice likely wouldn’t have those kinds of resources available.
Roman added that the mission-driven nature of Thundermist also seems to attract primary care providers.
“We focus on lots of aspects of health,” he said. “And I think when providers see that they say, ‘well that’s where I want to work, because that’s why I got into healthcare.”
Roman boasted about features like the community garden at the West Warwick location, for example.
“Not many healthcare organizations have an orchard or have a community garden like we have, or have community health teams that go out and address people’s housing issues and transportation barriers.”
And that’s significant, Roman said, because there should be no barriers to someone getting good care.
“It’s all aligned with our mission to ensure that people have access to affordable high quality care,” Roman continued. “That’s sort of why health centers exist, in general, is to ensure people who would otherwise not get into care get into care.”