Lakeland serves Cass

Published 12:50 am Thursday, May 15, 2003

By By MARCIA STEFFENS / Cassopolis Vigilant
CASSOPOLIS -- Nearly 40 years ago, the Lakeland Family Clinic brought a doctor's care right home to the people of Cassopolis and the surrounding areas. Dr. Aaron Warren, who is now retired, and Dr. Lowell Smith, a specialist practicing in oncology in St. Joseph, established the clinic in 1964 to provide local family medical services.
They were faced with years of declining revenue from government funded programs before enhanced reimbursement came in 1992 through the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The clinic became a certified Rural Health Clinic. Lakeland Regional Health System purchased the Clinic from Dr. Warren in 1993.
The building was once divided with space for a private eye doctor and then for Woodlands. After they moved to their own place on the east side of Cass, the clinic filled the building and its additions, where it started.
The clinic has seen between 80 and 100 patients a day at the School Street address and that number can go up when a specialist doctor is present for the day.
Most patients come from Cassopolis, with a large number from Dowagiac and Edwardsburg, said Keryl Conkwright, R.N., Patient Care Manager. They also draw from Three Rivers, White Pigeon and Marcellus.
Recently the Clinic changed its "walk-in" policy to help space those being seen, she explained. Patients make appointments to see specific doctors, but urgent care for acute illness or injuries may get priority, even though they do not have an appointment. "If you are sick today -- you are going to be seen," she added. "We encourage people to call first. It is a wise use of the staff's time," and the patient will have a shorter wait.
On staff are practitioners Dr. Neil See of Granger, Ind. and Dr. Ellen Tambunan of Berrien Springs. Dr. See has been with the clinic half of its existence.
The doctors are aided by Physician Assistants Thomas Miller and Andrea Carlin. Miller, retired from the Air Force, has worked at the clinic for 10 years. Carlin, who started last fall, is also with the Air Force and part of the Homeland Security Team.
Sr. Nagaraja Sharma, a Niles Cardiologist provides services in Cassopolis every week, as a convenience to the patients. Another primary care physician with a speciality in internal medicine, Dr. Ogubay Mesmer of South Africa, will be joining the clinic June 1.
Those who require additional testing or care are referred to Lakeland Hospitals in Niles and St. Joseph. Over 1,725 referrals to physicians were recorded last year.
Last year, 84 percent of referrals were to Lakeland physicians, but, "some patients request referrals to Three Rivers, Kalamazoo, or South Bend," she added, "depending on where they live, or the type of insurance they have.
Presently Middleton, who has been with Lakeland for 22 years, has been working on grants for federal money to help compensate for the uninsured and those with no insurance. Last year the Cassopolis Clinic provided $351,139 in unreimbursed care.
Cassopolis has need for "a highly skilled nursing staff," said Conkwright, proud of her nurses. "Our nursing staff consists of all Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certified registered nurses.
Conkwright made note that the Cassopolis area ambulance service is a basic one, staffed by volunteers. Should a nurse need to ride along with the patient during transport, he or she may be "required to assist in the transport -- and is able to provide cardiac monitoring and follow appropriate ACLS protocol should the patient require medications or procedures en route to the hospital."
After 20 years at the clinic, Conkwright is seeing the babies of those she cared for when they were children.
Rounding out the family of care providers is the excellent staff who provided the clerical functions, taking appoints, greeting the patients and keeping records.
Since Lakeland was already in compliance with HIPPA and the privacy law, the recent April 14 date brought little change, only a few more forms, said Conkwright. "But we are used to change."
On staff also is a full-time phlebotomist. Patients can have their blood tested or throat culture checked and also have their blood sugar and blood pressure taken.
Each year the Lakeland Clinic offers sports physicals to those at Ross Beatty Jr./Sr. High School. The $10 fee is given back to the Cassopolis Athletic Boosters to help purchase equipment, she added.
Two new programs are planned for the fall, explained Middleton. One, planned by Nurse Conkwright would offer diabetic education, which she sees as "a growing need."
The other, which is to be run by another nurse, Patty Bontrager, is a patient assist service to help with all the paperwork to find low cost or free medications for seniors and those who need assistance.
Hours at the clinic are from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. Call (269) 445-3874 for an appointment or with questions.