Healthwise Medical Clinic highlighted for Nurse Practitioner Week

Courtesy Photos Among staff at Healthwise Medical Clinic are, from left, Rhonda Keller, FNP; Susan Weeks, FNP; Tracy Wenzel, medical assistant; Michelle Andreski, medical assistant; Misty McDonald, medical assistant; Ellen Buchler, FNP; and Kim Gilin, office manager.

It is Nurse Practitioner Week once again with celebrations occurring all over the country during the week of Nov. 12-18.

The role of NP’s represents a unique blend of nursing and medical functions. According to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, this blend distinguishes NP’s from other health care providers. In addition to being expert clinicians and diagnosticians, they provide comprehensive, personalized health education and counseling.

NP’s are quickly becoming the health partner of choice for millions of Americans. As clinicians, they blend clinical expertise in diagnosing and treating health conditions with an added emphasis on disease prevention and health management. NP’s bring a comprehensive perspective to health care, and Americans make over 870 million visits to NP’s every year.

Locally, Healthwise Medical Clinic is a premier nurse practitioner-owned primary care clinic in Alpena. Owner Rhonda Keller, a Family Nurse Practitioner, is a Northeast Michigan Council of Nurse Practitioners chapter member. She has been in business for 11 years and works with three other NP’s who deliver efficient high-quality primary care services to Alpena area residents.

The team consists of several other staff members, including medical assistants, coders, receptionists and an office manager. Dr. Daniel Maxwell serves as the current collaborating physician.

An Alpena native, Keller obtained her Master in Nursing Degree from Wayne State University and a post-master’s certificate from Graceland University in Iowa. She has worked for Dr. Paul Rajasekhar, MD, and the Baybrook medical group over a 10-year period. Other positions held have included adjunct faculty at Alpena Community College, Spring Arbor University and Lake Superior University, convalescent centers and the Veteran’s Administration in Ann Arbor.

She then started Healthwise Medical Clinic in 2006. The hospital was very supportive at the time, especially John McVeety the former CEO, and Al Moe. McVeety,who recently passed away, was a wonderful man, said Keller.

“He was very professional. Both were glad to have our primary care clinic available for the community,” Keller said of McVeety and Moe. “Hospital support is very important in a small community with limited primary care opportunities available.”

Healthwise has remained resilient to changes and has worked hard to adapt to increasing demands by insurances and the healthcare environment. Although running a medical office can be demanding, Keller said it also can be very rewarding.

“I have a great team and they need very little direction,” she said.

Many of the original employees still work at the clinic. Some days it is hard to differentiate the office from a family environment, said Michelle Bates, a certified medical assistant.

“We work very hard and have some very long days, but we try to also have fun and enjoy our close bond,” Bates said.

Fellow staff members Mary Wells and Kelli Laird agree. They said most of the employees know each other’s jobs, that they want the clinic to be successful, and that they are always trying to make improvements.

Being a nurse practitioner also consists of mentorship. Keller believes it is important to mentor or provide guidance to student nurse practitioners in her clinic. Healthwise has become a destination to obtain clinical experience for many NP’s who are now practicing in the area.

Keller said she wants to make sure the students have the skills necessary to perform critical thinking and problem solving for their patients one day.

“I want the NP’s to perform proper exams, present a diagnosis, and order the appropriate medications and diagnostic tests if needed,” she said. “I want them to think holistically, see the whole person both physically and mentally, and focus on health prevention and promotion.”

Precepting NP students can be a daunting task along with a routine workload but can be very rewarding, according to Keller. Healthwise currently has more than 3,000 primary care clients and continues to accept new patients.

As one of the newer primary care medical clinics in the area, Healthwise has a homey feel – a bright atmosphere with a personable staff and an office receptionist, Kelli Laird, who makes it a point to know everyone’s names. There is lots of laughter and colleagues seem like family.

Three medical assistants, Michelle Andreski, Tracy Wenzel and Misty McDonald, also work to make sure things run smoothly. Keller said the three are so tuned in to each of the NP’s and the routine that they need little direction. The medical assistants perform many tasks such as initial intake and history-taking, administering medications and venipuncture, and performing EKGs.

They also make phone calls to patients about test results. Andreski added that the computer work is much more involved these days. All three of these clinic employees bring a blend of humor and professionalism to the daily routine.

Ellen Buchler, a Saginaw Valley State University graduate, is a full-time Family Nurse Practitioner who came to Healthwise from a Walgreens minute clinic in Florida. Prior to that she worked for Thunder Bay Community Health Services for about four years in Rogers City.

She enjoys the environment at the clinic and was happy to return to Alpena to be near family again. She also said it is good to have more than one provider available to collaborate with on difficult cases. Buchler is an MICNP member and treasurer of the local chapter.

Barb Kacel, a FNP, retired from Alcona Health Center and joined Healthwise in 2016. She is an MICNP member as well. Keeping in mind that primary care is complex, Kacel said, “You have to know about every specialty to a degree. Nurse practitioners are one of the gatekeepers now who have the skills to diagnose and treat diseases and make referrals if needed. We must be current with all the medications, guidelines and what is normal and abnormal in a diverse population.”

Documentation in the electronic medical record (EMR) is an ongoing challenge as well in clinics and hospitals for reimbursement from insurance and for government requirements. Kacel is also a certified diabetes educator.

Susan Weeks, another FNP, is a contractual nurse practitioner at Healthwise. She serves as secretary for the local MICNP chapter.

“I’ve always been impressed with how the employees at Healthwise have streamlined their processes and work like a well-oiled machine,” Weeks said. “Everyone is just doing their job and very focused even though it is very busy.”

Weeks said she has always been impressed that there is seldom outward chaos, but rather only a warm welcome to everyone.

“It is not surprising that few employees leave, but for those who do their connection to the staff usually continues,” she said.

Many patients talk highly of their experiences at Healthwise Medical Clinic.

“Due to the excellent care I receive, I no longer need many medications and my diabetes is stable,” said patient Kathy Kindt. She adds that she is “almost off pain medication” after 13 years. Kindt expressed that her caregivers are not only partners in her care but are also her friends, and that the staff is very cheerful and courteous.

Nurse practitioners have been helped by recent legislation regarding a Scope of Practice Bill. This bill relates to prescribing medication and ordering other therapies without a physician co-signature. Many other issues remain, however, to be addressed that will continue to increase efficiency and improve the quality of care to patients.

Both the AANP and MICNP organizations continue to address these challenges that face nurse practitioners on a national level. Healthwise Medical Clinic staff work diligently to provide the most efficient, cost effective care possible in the current environment.

There are over 30 nurse practitioners in Alpena and surrounding counties who are members of the local Northeast Michigan MICNP chapter. Chapter President Cece Peasley, FNP, states the chapters wants to support NP’s through quarterly educational meetings and engage them in policy that strengthens the organization and the community. The local chapter is active with scholarships, participation in local events and membership support.