COVER STORY: Building a Medical Center for All
By Caurie Putnam | Photos by Rich Paprocki
When Dr. Bridgette Wiefling, chief executive officer of Rochester’s Anthony L. Jordan Health Center, was a medical student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison she grew tired of paying $1,100 a month in rent for a tiny apartment.
So Wiefling, as a single 25 year old woman, did what most would NOT do – she built a house.
“Looking back, I’m really proud of that,” said Dr. Wiefling, who went through a long, laborious process of finding a lot, buying the property at auction, designing a house that would fit the odd shaped lot, and helping built it by doing everything from insulation to some electrical work.
Dr. Wiefling’s persistence in creating the dwelling that would be her home throughout medical school foreshadowed the persistence and hard work that would come twenty years later when she helped re-build something else in her new home city: a medical center for all.
Bridgette Wiefling, 41, was born in a rural area of Pennsylvania to Geraldine and Donald Wiefling. She was the youngest child of four and the only girl.
“Nobody in my family ever treated me as a girl,” Dr. Wiefling recalled. “My parents didn’t have any different expectations of me in terms of workload or achievement then they did of my brothers.”
The family owned and operated a cattle farm and all the Wiefling children – Brian, Robert, Bradley, and Bridgette, were involved.
“There is a lot to do on a farm,” Dr. Wiefling said. “You can’t do it all alone so you have to rely on each other. I think the farm taught me a lot about team work and problem solving.”
Geraldine Wiefling believes the farm laid the foundation for her daughter’s success.
“Everybody had to do their share,” Geraldine said. “That’s where Bridgette learned her work ethic. It taught her you have to work as a team and have a good team behind you if you want to get things done.”
Geraldine remembers her daughter as a hard worker.
“She never picked the easy jobs,” Geraldine said. “She always went for the hardest, even as a little girl.”
When Bridgette was in the third grade something happened in her family that would put her on a direct path into the medical profession.
Her grandmother, whom she was extremely close to, had a serious reaction to iodine while undergoing a routine medical test. The iodine made her ill for a year and ultimately killed her.“I was in and out of the hospital for a year with my parents visiting my grandmother,” Dr. Wiefling said. “It drove me to be a doctor.”
Her mother remembers her declaring in the third grade that she would become a physician.
“It was a very hard year,” said Geraldine. “But it helped make her who she is today.”
The experience with her grandmother also exposed Dr. Wiefling to inequities that can occur in medical care in different types of communities.
“I saw that the rural community we lived in didn’t have a medical system in place,” Dr. Wiefling said. “I saw bad outcomes and a system that wasn’t supportive to patients and family’s needs. I didn’t want that to happen to anyone else.”
In medical school, Bridgette would continue her focus on helping patients in underserved communities.
“I chose to have a really broad experience,” Dr. Wiefling said. “I set up my medical training to have a diverse experience where I worked at free clinics for refugees and migrants and in the inner-city and rural areas.”
When she was looking for a residency program she knew she wanted to be in a place with a diverse population.
“I sought that out,” Dr. Wiefling said. “I really enjoyed inner city medicine.”
Wiefling also wanted to be close to her family for her residency.
When she was offered a prestigious residency in pediatrics through the University of Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital and Rochester General Hospital she knew she found her ideal community.
“I liked Rochester as a city and a community,” Dr. Wiefling said. “It wasn’t a huge urban mecca, but it had urban and rural. It felt like a place I could wrap my arms around and make a difference.”
And Wiefling has made a difference.
In 2005, while also working as a physician in Honduras, she sought out the Anthony L. Jordan Health Center after “hearing about it from many people I respected.”
The Anthony L. Jordan Health Center is an independent, federally qualified community health center with numerous locations in the City of Rochester (Lake Avenue, Genesee Street, Holland Street, Upper Falls Blvd. and Plymouth Avenue)
It serves about 28,000 patients a year via: adolescent medicine, behavioral health, dentistry, optometry, family and internal medicine, podiatry, prevention and primary care, laboratory and pharmacy services, OB/GYN, pediatrics, and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Supplemental Nutrition Program.
The center, founded forty years ago, bears the name of the late Dr. Anthony L. Jordan, a progressive and humanitarian minded physician who said: “The doors of doctors’ offices should be open to all, whether they have money or not.”
That is a philosophy Dr. Wiefling believes in strongly.
Once she entered Jordan in 2005 she knew she found her home.
Jordan needed work, though, and Dr. Wiefling – ever the hard worker – was up to the task.
While the foundation of caring and service to all was palpable when she joined the team, the structure needed re-building.
“The system needed work,” Dr. Wiefling said. “You couldn’t get through on the phone, the wait to see a primary care doctor could be two hours, there wasn’t a way to communicate with the hospitals, we were still using paper records, and it was chaotic trying to get information.”
Dr. Wiefling – who became medical director in 2006 and CEO in 2007 – went to work batting down the hatchet.
“We improved information exchange, moved to electronic records, got data mining capacity, added a call center, added same day/next day appointments and updated equipment,” Dr. Wiefling said. “We have the systems in place now to make it easier for patients to access medical care.”
The center added a dental clinic in 2011 and, with major funding from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, is currently building an urgent care center at its Holland Street location.
Also, last month Jordan opened a satellite center called Jordan at Kennedy Tower on Plymouth Avenue. Two other satellite centers – Jordan at Andrews Terrace on St. Paul Street and Jordan at Glenwood Garden on Kestrel Street – are also in the process of opening.
The three new centers were funded by a $1 million dollar Health Center New Access Point grant to reduce barriers to urban patients receiving primary care.
Jordan’s new urgent care center will also house a mammography machine.
Jordan has partnered with Highland Hospital, which will provide staff for x-ray and mammography services and the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester, which, together with Highland, will fund purchase of the new mammography equipment for Jordan.
Offering mammography services at Jordan is something Dr. Wiefling is excited about.
“Having a mammography machine where our patients live is so important,” Dr. Wiefling said. “Our patients often have limited resources and don’t have access to transportation to drive all over the city for a mammogram.”
Dr. Wiefling believes a mammography machine at Jordan will increase the number of patients getting mammograms – and that, in turn, should decrease mortality.
The American Cancer Society’s 2012 Cancer Prevention & Early Detection Facts and Figures backs that:
In order to further reduce breast cancer mortality, it is important to improve access to screening; rates of mammography use continue to be low among those with low-income levels, recent immigrants, and individuals who lack health insurance coverage. Access barriers to screening may lead to more advanced-stage breast cancer diagnosis and poorer survival. Programs and policies that both promote and enable access to mammography screening for low-income uninsured and underinsured women need to be enhanced and supported.
“At Jordan we believe in helping women live their own lives,” Dr. Wiefling said. “And to do that, you have to make medical care like mammograms accessible and easy.”
And, while Dr. Wiefling has grown and will continue to build Jordan, she has never abandoned the reason she went into medical practice to begin with: patients.
“I love my patients,” Dr. Wiefling said. “I do everything I do for them. They make doing all the work I do so easy.”