Doctors plan urgent care clinic for Manchester

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MANCHESTER >> As emergency physicians practicing in Southern Vermont, Dr. Janel Kittredge and Dr. Thomas Sterling know there's a need for greater access to doctors and urgent medical care in Manchester and its surrounding towns.

At least once a week, the couple says, they hear from someone who needs to know if an injury or a medical condition can wait — or if it requires a drive of half an hour or longer to an emergency room in Bennington or Rutland. Medical officials and municipal leaders agree it's a growing concern for the town and its tourism industry.

The couple intends to do something about it.

When the Manchester Select Board next meets at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 1, Kittredge and Sterling will update the board on their plans for a walk-in urgent care center in the former Second Rising bakery cafe at 34 Bonnet St.

"We hear all the time that folks can't get in to see a doctor," said Kittredge, a Manchester native and Burr and Burton Academy graduate. "With our training and our ability to care for everyone from infants to the elderly, we wanted to bring that skill set to our community."

Town manager John P. O'Keefe and economic development officer Pauline Moore have already sent a letter to the board in support of the project.

According to documents filed with the GMBC, the project cost is estimated at about $1.4 million. "It is a big capital investment," Sterling said of the plan.

"This is a resource that will help improve the economy in our town." Sterling said. "We want to give visitors that reassurance that they can see a doctor."

As town manager, O'Keefe knows that the inns and hotels here want assurances that their guests can be cared for if they're injured or become ill. And as a soccer coach, he knows that injuries happen — and that officials of tournaments considering Manchester as a host want to know that players and fans have access to urgent care.

"I think there's a lot of merit to this," O'Keefe said of the plan.

Southern Vermont Medical Center, which operates a general medical practice Northshire Campus on Route 7A, is among those who see the need for more doctors, and for urgent care that fills the geographic gap between Manchester and the hospitals to the north and south.

"We are definitely supportive of any medical services that can be brought to the region," said Dr. Trey Dobson, the hospital's chief medical officer. "We're looking forward to partnering with them."

"[Kittredge and Sterling] are doctors who work in our emergency department and we know them very well, They are excellent physicians, and we are certainly looking forward to collaborating with them," Dobson said.

The interior of the building still very much looks like a cafe, with sandwich offerings adorning the blackboard over the counter. But that's going to change. Kittredge, 42, and Sterling, 41, plan to purchase the building and will use about 4,200 square feet of space to offer medical services from wrapping sprained ankles to stabilizing heart attack patients.

The two doctors, who met during their medical training in Ohio and have four children, are board certified in emergency medicine and practice at Southern Vermont Medicine Center in Bennington and Stratton Mountain Urgent Care/Carlos Otis Clinic on Stratton Mountain. Sterling is also a flight physician and part of the Critical Care Air Transport Team in the Vermont Air National Guard.

While the couple had long discussed the potential for an urgent care clinic in Manchester, it was about five months ago that a friend's medical emergency led them to realize they needed to turn their idea into reality.

As Kittredge explained (without names or specifics, to protect patient privacy), a friend's child had a medical issue, but the friend couldn't get the child seen by a doctor and didn't know what to do. The couple agreed to see the child at their home in Winhall, and quickly realized the child needed to get to a hospital.

The story had a happy ending, Kittredge said. But the situation made the couple realize they needed to act.

"We're really trying to care for folks for who don't need an emergency room or a hospital," Sterling said. "Eighty percent of emergency room patients at SVMC are treated and sent home."

SVMC's Northshire Campus does have night and weekend hours, Dobson said. But like other rural areas, Vermont has difficulty attracting and retaining primary care physicians, he added.

The addition of Kittredge and Sterling would help fill that gap, he said.

"Because of their background and training they will be able to treat patients with certain conditions not handled in a primary care physician's office," he said. "It adds to the overall offering of care in our area."


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