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‘Membership’ family health practice to open

NURSE PRACTIONER LAURA Wilkinson, left, and Dr. Jessica Rouse have joined forces to form a new family health practice called Village Health, which will soon open in downtown Middlebury’s Star Mill building.

We believe in good medicine, not fast medicine.
— Laura Wilkinson

MIDDLEBURY — Nurse Practitioner Laura Wilkinson and Dr. Jessica Rouse have been good friends for years.
Now the pair will be professional colleagues in a new private family health practice office called Village Health, to open later this month in the former Junebug location at 5 Park St. in the Star Mill building.
Village Health will be a membership-based family care practice, caring for patients from infancy to their senior years. Services will include preventative care, treatment for common illnesses, care for chronic conditions, health screening, and laboratory services.  And starting in January 2020 Wilkinson will offer health coaching for individuals and group classes.
In an effort to run a highly personalized practice, Rouse will limit her patient load to 500, while Wilkinson will cap hers at 400. That’s quite a shift from the 1,500 patients Rouse had been seeing in her recent role at Primary Care Middlebury. Wilkinson had been assigned 800 patients while at Porter Internal Medicine from 2010-2015.
“One of the things about this kind of practice is that you limit the number of patients you take care of so that you really get to know the patients you’re taking care of and take time with them,” Rouse said. “If they call and say, ‘I’m sick,’ you can say, ‘Come on in, we’ll see you today.’”
Having fewer patients, Wilkinson reasoned, will allow the partners to accommodate folks even when they aren’t necessarily feeling ill, to discuss wellness and preventative care tips.
“We want to see people even when they’re well, to help them live their best lives,” Wilkinson said.
It was last spring that Wilkinson started thinking about returning to serving the larger community, after having spent three years as a nurse practitioner and health coach at Middlebury College. She began to weigh her options in consultation with family and friends.
One of those with whom she consulted was Porter Internal Medicine’s Dr. Brad Armstrong, with whom she had worked.
“I was telling him how I’d heard through the grapevine that Jess was ending her time of employment with Porter,” Wilkinson recalled. “(Armstrong) stopped me and said, ‘OK, you need to call her and you two need to be a team.’ He said ‘This is what the community needs.’”
Wilkinson called Rouse following her meeting with Armstrong and made the collaboration pitch. Rouse warmed to the idea, and they began envisioning what their practice — Village Health — would look like.
“We were both community members,” Wilkinson said. “Jess was like Mary Poppins and I’m like Burt the chimney sweep. We work really well together, and we share common values.”
Those core values, she said, include “taking care of people and listening to them,” Rouse said. “We’re the kind of people who say, ‘And is there anything else we can do for you today?’”
“We believe in good medicine, not fast medicine,” Wilkinson added.
They also want to make sure their services are affordable. To that end, Village Health patients will pay a monthly fee for as many visits with their provider as they need.
“Providing that kind of care also helps us access group plans so that clients can be charged cash-pay prices for set services, such as lab work and imaging (such as X-rays and MRIs). The cash-pay fees can be as little as 20 percent of the listed price for the same services provided in other health care settings,” according to Rouse.
Patients with commercial health insurance will receive concierge level services of lengthened office visits, same day appointments for acute care needs, and 24/7 provider access. Village Health will also accept patients with Medicaid and Medicare.
The Village Health business model allows uninsured or under-insured folks to access care at a more reasonable cost, and thus not forego treatment due to household budget constraints, the two medical professionals said.
“In some ways, it’s a lot like old-school medicine,” Rouse said.
More modern is the concept of a health coach, and Wilkinson fits that profile to a T.
Middlebury College supported Wilkinson’s effort to gain health coach certification, which she did after training at Duke University. She’s since assisted more than 1,000 clients as a certified health coach. She counsels clients on steps they can take — such as diet and exercise regimens — to become fit.
Wilkinson also writes a monthly health column for the Addison Independent’s Arts + Leisure section.
“There’s no question in my mind that being a health coach has made me a better nurse practitioner as well,” she said.
At this point, health coaching services aren’t reimbursable through health insurance. But patients will be able to benefit from Wilkinson’s health coaching while visiting her for medical services.
Both Rouse and Wilkinson are pleased to have located their office in downtown Middlebury, making it readily accessible by public transportation and foot.
“We were both really excited about working someplace walkable, and this place was available,” Rouse said.
Wilkinson is eager to be in business in an area where she has been shopping for many years.
“This is our village; this is where I buy books, my clothes and where I get my hair cut,” she said. “These are our neighbors, our friends. It makes sense to be part of a community.”
Living and working in a rural setting, Rouse often encounters her patients in non-clinic settings, whether it be at the grocery store or while walking to church. She’d like to see that continue.
“It makes sense to continue that sort of community,” Rouse said.
A Village Health website is under construction. For more information about the practice — which is still taking new patients — email [email protected].
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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