New Plattsburgh low-income health clinic fills essential gap

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) Hudson Headwaters opened a new low-income health clinic in Plattsburgh nearly one year ago. In that time they have helped meet the needs of the community in more ways than one.

"We always try to ensure that people have access to primary care services," said group's Jane Hooper.

With the North Country's health providers already taking on too many patients, or not taking patients without insurance, Hudson Headwaters has helped fill a void. The nonprofit partnered with Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital to open its second Clinton County facility to tackle what it describes as a "critical shortage" of primary care providers in the North Country.

The Plattsburgh clinic is a Federally Qualified Health Center, giving it access to federal funding to be able to help low-income patients, which is a majority of the patients they are seeing.

"Never turn anyone away for lack of insurance. We have sliding fee programs that will work with patients and families to help cover the costs of their medical care," Hooper said.

In the 10 months they have been open, the clinic has helped roughly 5,000 new patients during more than 14,000 visits. Officials say that number is expected to continue to grow.

The staff at the clinic is growing too, hiring graduates from the Family Medicine Residency program offered through CVPH. It's designed to train medical students specifically for what's lacking in the region -- primary care physicians. The three graduates from the program this past year all took jobs at Hudson Headwaters, helping to bring young doctors back to the area.

"We want to be able to keep the talent that we train locally within our local area," Hooper said.

One of the residency hires is Dr. David Ellsworth, a Plattsburgh native who sees the need to stay rural. "I think coming back here makes a big difference, especially an area that needs younger physicians to step up to the plate," he said.

Ellsworth left the area for medical school but came back to practice, and he encourages fellow new graduates interested in making roots for a future practice to do the same. "Basically, the big city lights are a beacon for some. But to be able to stay in your community and really help out and give back to what they gave you is really something you should think about," he said.