Top Docs '14: Community Service Award Winners
This January, we asked doctors participating in our Top Doctors online survey to help us single out for praise health care practitioners who are expanding health care access and improving outcomes for underserved and disenfranchised communities close to home. From these nominations and in consultation with our Top Doctors Advisory Board, the editors selected nine Community Service Award winners. Like all the physicians in our Top Doctors list, they are helping to make our entire region healthier and happier.
Rosemary Agostini, M.D., chief of activity, sports and exercise medicine at Group Health
“Healthier communities are safer communities, and safer communities are healthier communities,” says Dr. Rosemary Agostini, chief of activity, sports and exercise medicine at Group Health. Unfortunately, there are many neighborhoods where people don’t walk due to health concerns or because they feel unsafe walking alone in their neighborhood. It is for them that Agostini created the Walk & Talk program, after receiving a Tomorrow Medical Leaders Award and a Partnership for Innovation grant from the Group Health Foundation. The program, launched in 2012, brings together Group Health patients, doctors, police officers and community members for walks in Seattle and other Group Health locations. Many participants have lost weight or increased their activity, and the program creates a sense of community.
Prior to joining Group Health, Agostini coordinated a program through Virginia Mason Medical Center that placed athletic trainers and volunteer doctors in Seattle schools. For 25 years, she’s assisted skiers with medical emergencies on Stevens Pass. Farther from home, she was a volunteer physician at the 1996 Olympics, caring for athletes unable to afford to bring their own doctors. “Dr. Agostini has endless energy that is contagious,” says Jessie Fudge, M.D., a sports medicine doctor at Family Medical Center at Group Health in Everett. “She motivates patients and community members to take control of their health and their life.” —SHAWNA LEADER
Polly Fabian, M.D., Philip Reilly, M.D., & Patrick Gemperline, M.D., providers at Sea Mar Community Health Centers
Sea Mar Community Health Centers was founded in 1978, with one clinic in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle. Its mission was—and still is—to provide quality comprehensive health, human and housing services to diverse, underserved and underinsured populations, specializing in service to Latinos. Today, it is the largest community health organization in the state, with more than 1,800 colleagues in 60 medical, dental, behavioral and social services locations—and it has built strong partnerships with powerful organizations, such as Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Swedish Medical Center.
What makes Sea Mar unique is the organization’s focus—not only on meeting the health needs of its communities today—but on addressing the negative social determinants of poor health, such as limited access to doctors. In 1987, in anticipation of a shortage of primary care physicians, especially those trained to serve community clinics with diverse populations, Sea Mar established its Family Medical Residence Program. More than 45 physicians have graduated from the acclaimed program and now practice in cities from Seattle to Boston, most in community health clinics.
It’s a tough job with long hours, high volume and complex medical conditions—and inspiring others to take up the calling is even more difficult. But doctors Polly Fabian, Patrick Gemperline and Philip Reilly—all of whom are practitioners at Sea Mar’s busy Seattle Medical Clinic (650 patients weekly) and preceptors in the residency program—are doing just that. “These physicians are smart, bilingual, caring and compassionate, as well as masters at juggling evidence-based medicine with culturally appropriate care in limited amounts of time,” says Travis Jo Cufley, a family nurse practitioner at EvergreenHealth’s clinic in Kenmore who worked at Sea Mar and was impressed and motivated by the efforts of these doctors.
They are highly respected by peers, colleagues and students for their expertise, commitment and compassion; they are beloved for their mentoring and selflessness. Instructor Fabian makes time to meet with female residents to discuss balancing work and life. Reilly, a Sea Mar residency graduate, is clinical director for Seattle Medical Clinic and lead clinician for Sea Mar’s boxing club in South Park. Gemperline is faculty director and site supervisor of the Family Medicine Residency Program, coordinates the obstetrics training for first-year residents, is the Advanced Life Support Obstetrics (ALSO) course director—and volunteers regularly at the winter homeless shelter sponsored by St. Joseph’s Church.
“They are excellent teachers,” says Mary Weiss, a Sea Mar residency graduate, full-spectrum family practitioner, and the medical director of Swedish Medical Group’s Central Seattle Clinic and Swedish Primary Care Outreach and Community Health. “They take excellent care of their patients and are role models for other physicians in terms of how to care for underserved patients and do exceptional quality work.”
Wayne F. Larrabee Jr., M.D., director, Larrabee Center in Seattle, and clinical professor in facial plastic surgery at the University of Washington
Domestic abuse often leaves scars that are physical as well as emotional. Removing these visual reminders of the violence can provide an important stepping-stone for survivors trying to create a new life. Seattle plastic surgeon Wayne Larrabee is bringing these benefits to those who might otherwise miss out on the opportunity. For his work as cofounder of Face to Face, which provides pro bono facial surgery, he received the American Medical Association’s Major Public Service Award in 1996 on behalf of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (Face to Face is a program within the AAFPRS). He organizes fundraisers to assist local domestic violence shelters as well.
“It is unusual to have somebody who is so accomplished in all the things he’s done,” says Dr. Richard Solazzi, a recently retired anesthesiologist with the Larrabee Center. “He’s tried harder to make the world a better place.” In addition, Larrabee founded and is the director of Global Surgical Outreach, a nonprofit that provides surgical facial reconstruction, including cleft lip/palate surgery, and education on facial surgery for physicians in developing countries.
His goals for future projects include expanding the facial plastic surgery fellowship he currently directs at the UW by providing resources for surgeons to pursue careers in surgical services around the world. “It’s not often in life that you get to create a program that does a whole lot of people a lot of good,” says Larrabee, reflecting on the Face to Face program. Fortunately for the countless patients who have benefited from his services, he’s done this a few times. —S.L.
THE MEDICAL MISSIONARY
Christopher Jones, M.D., medical director, HopeCentral
Working at a community health center in Chicago from 2002 to 2010, Washington native Dr. Christopher Jones first caught wind of a pediatric clinic in the works, later named HopeCentral, to serve Seattle’s neediest children. Compelled by the group’s mission, Jones moved to Seattle a year later and joined its board of founders. Fellow board member Dr. Tina Chang credits Jones’ energy, leadership and dedication as key to making the Rainier Valley clinic a reality; its doors officially opened this May.
“He has a great heart for kids and persevered through many obstacles to make it happen,” she says.
HopeCentral, which partners with Union Gospel Mission, serves both pediatric behavioral health and medical needs, and staffs a full-time clinical psychologist. The clinic also uses an affordable subscription model, which entails a set monthly fee and no copayment for a visit, making it a good option for parents who are self-employed or small-business owners and have high-deductible insurance plans. Jones, a father of three who lives in Rainier Valley, says his belief that “God loves everyone and wants them to have great health” underpins his own love and commitment to his community. —NAOMI CRAW
Maria Yang, M.D., medical director, Crisis Solutions Center
It is estimated that more than 60 percent of chronically homeless people in cities nationwide face lifelong mental health problems, and that population struggles to access the health care system. Simultaneously, cutbacks in social services continue. Into these conditions steps Dr. Maria Yang, medical director of the Crisis Solutions Center (CSC, operated by the Downtown Emergency Service Center), whose clients include homeless individuals who, in a mental health crisis, might otherwise be arrested or sent to a hospital emergency room. At CSC, they receive psychiatric care and support for substance abuse and chronic homelessness. Yang estimates that about 2,000 people have gone through the CSC since it opened two years ago.
“Just because you don’t have money doesn’t mean that you should get subpar health care,” Yang says. “And just because people are homeless doesn’t mean that they aren’t people. Working with this population allows me to advocate for them, help those individuals in our community who often experience significant suffering and use all of my skills to do good.” Yang’s commitment to those in need is constant, despite the difficulties of the job. Dr. Barbara McCann, a psychologist at Harborview Medical Center, describes it this way, “Dr. Yang finds intrinsic, intangible rewards in working with a population that presents challenges most of us cannot even begin to appreciate.” —S.L.
Ben Danielson, M.D., medical director, Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic
Listen first, act second.
It sounds like the ethos of a parent or a friend, not of a medical director: “My privilege is to be there for someone, over a long time, with a chance to listen,” says Dr. Ben Danielson. This posture of humility infuses his work at Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic in the Central District, where he has served low-income families for the past 15 years. Danielson works long days, seeing patients, running clinic teams and strategizing grants—not to mention attending community meetings and mentoring. His work is a gift to the community, but Danielson simply sees it in reverse. “I get way more than I give,” he says.
And after Danielson listens, he acts. Dr. Raye Maestas, a longtime colleague, says that under his humility and cheerfulness, Danielson is “a man of great courage and a champion for his patients, with an unwavering dedication that inspires colleagues, students, policymakers and community advocates.” Danielson applies his tremendous energy and creativity to holistic solutions for his patients, such as the Washington Medical-Legal Partnership he founded in 2008, which teams up doctors and lawyers to advocate for low-income patients. They serve hundreds of people each year, helping them to improve their income, educational access and housing conditions. The partnership is a testament to Danielson’s belief that the solution happens when people come together to listen with compassion and act with power. —N.C.
YES MAN (not pictured)
Lee Vincent, M.D., pediatrician, cofounder, Youth Eastside Services
The year was 1968, and the drug counterculture made a sudden and startling appearance on the Eastside, leading to overdoses. At that time, there were few drug prevention and treatment resources in place, so Dr. Lee Vincent, his wife and four other couples founded the nonprofit Youth Eastside Services (YES) to meet their community’s need.
Vincent, who at age 83 recently retired from the pediatric practice he started (Pediatric Associates, with offices in Bellevue, Redmond and six other Eastside locations), says that YES started with a “flying squad” of medical doctors and psychologists, who would rush to the scenes of bad drug trips. Since 1968, YES has become one of the largest providers of substance abuse treatment and counseling in the region, and it now addresses a full range of emotional and behavioral issues, from abusive homes to gender identity issues. It also places psychologists and volunteers in schools to provide more immediate access for children. Vincent credits YES’s continual growth to the community’s overwhelming generosity of time and money.
One of the doctors Vincent mentored in his practice, Dr. Amy Carter, calls him a “quintessential pediatrician” who deeply understands the family and community issues related to children’s health. In his retirement, Vincent continues to volunteer with YES and leaves a legacy of changed lives in the Eastside community.