The Healdsburg Physician Group (HPG), part of the Healdsburg District Hospital, welcomed a new internal medicine physician last month, Dr. Philip Barr. The group also recently hired Dr. Kathleen Whisman, a family medicine physician.

The addition of Barr and Whisman come following the departure of two HPG primary care physicians, Dr. Alice Tse and Dr. Misty Zelk. Tse concluded her time at the practice and Zelk decided not to renew her contract and take a sabbatical from practicing, according to Gina Fabiano, the hospital’s head of marketing and communications.  

When the staffing changes first became apparent in August, the topic sparked concern among many residents and those who have been longtime patients of the two beloved primary care doctors.

Healdsburg District Hospital CEO, James Schuessler, told The Tribune earlier this year, “Where we are now is we have not laid physicians off, but there are physicians who have chosen not to accept their new contract and the new compensation model.”

Fabiano said while some of their primary care physicians have decided not to return or have decided to take a break, new doctors are available and are currently seeing patients. She said they will also continue to look for additional qualified and board-certified doctors to bring on the team. 

Schuessler said the new compensation model was implemented to “ensure the longevity and sustainability” of the organization.

“The Healdsburg District Hospital was really hit hard with COVID and it almost immediately made a very dramatic reduction in the hospital’s and the clinic’s revenues and even though there has been a tremendous effort here I think over the last several months, we still are nowhere near the same revenue figures in either the clinics or the hospital as we were back at the beginning of the year,” Schuessler said. “There were a number of public board meetings that were held where the board expressed its concern and discussed the financial stability of the organization and that was a lengthy public discussion and there were many physicians involved as I understand it. Coming out of that discussion, the board directed the hospital staff to negotiate new physician contracts basically to ensure the longevity of the hospital and try and align incentives between high-quality patient care and productivity.”

He said that was about the time he arrived on scene as the new CEO following the departure of former CEO, Joe Harrington.

“My charge among others was to work with the employed physician group towards new contracts that would include partial compensation on a salary basis and partial compensation on a basis that would provide compensation commensurate with the productivity of each individual physician. That’s pretty much in line with national best practices for physician compensation plans,” Schuessler said.

He said that’s the plan that’s in place for most physicians that are part of a larger healthcare organization in Sonoma County and across the nation.

Another primary care doctor retired independent of the contract change and another doctor, an emergency room doctor, retired this fall.

Schuessler said while he understands that some folks may be concerned about the staffing changes, patients will continue to get the care they expect to receive.

“While it is understandably a concern for patients in the case of those physicians who are leaving, they will be seeing another provider and we’ll make sure that there is an opportunity for anyone who needs to be seen to be seen and for their care to be continuous with another provider,” Schuessler said.

Introducing Barr and Whisman

Dr. Barr received his medical training at the University of Maryland, School of Medicine and since then has been practicing internal medicine for 29 years. During that time he also worked on researching the healing benefits of meditation.

Throughout his career he has also practiced acute care medicine while focusing on integrating a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual approach in healing the whole person. Through this focus, he earned Masters Degrees in Theology and in Spiritual Psychology with an emphasis on consciousness, health and healing from the University of Santa Monica.

As a primary care physician, Barr likes to spend quality time with each patient in order to strengthen and encourage a positive physician/patient relationship.

“When consulting with my patients, I assess their willingness to engage with healthy lifestyle changes and then present a few options for them to consider. We then discuss incorporating those changes in a way that is best for them. I like to include a less invasive, more natural and patient-friendly option such as a plant-based supplement for a patient suffering with diabetes to integrate into their wellness program. I do prescribe medications as necessary but work to minimize ‘polypharmacy’ or too many prescriptions. This allows them to make the choice for a treatment that they can manage on their own and participate in self-nurturing for a long and healthy life,” Dr. Barr said in a press release.

During his time here in Healdsburg, Barr has already established connections with both patients and colleagues, according to the press release.

“We are excited to welcome Dr. Barr to our physician group and appreciate the many skills and expertise he brings along with his can-do attitude. In a short time, our patients and staff have expressed confidence in his abilities and are happy to be working alongside him. Dr. Barr is a good fit for our team and our community,” Schuessler said in a statement.

Dr. Whisman is a board certified family practice physician who likes to take more of a holistic approach to care, and previously she worked in the Sebastopol community for over 20 years. She  

Dr. Whisman joined HPG in February and assisted with the launch of the tele-health program while providing consistent care to her patients.

Dr. David Anderson, a board member of the Northern Sonoma County Healthcare District — the governing body that oversees the district and the hospital — said of Dr. Whisman, “Upon meeting her I was greeted by her smile and warmth and true genuine nature. After learning more about her practice, I was greatly impressed with her focused dedication to her patients’ well-being. She shared a story of a family of four she recently cared for. Initially, the 8-year-old was sick, but soon after the parents and sibling all fell ill with similar respiratory symptoms. Dr. Whisman educated them on how to prevent the spread of illnesses by hand washing, bathing and isolating the sick member of the family. It was then the 8-year-old spoke up and said something that changed the whole dynamic. ‘You know we live in a car,’ she said. This information moved Dr. Whisman to take further action and she worked to arrange for temporary lodging with a shower and washing machine facilities for the family. The family’s health improved thanks to these extra efforts by Dr. Whisman.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, both Fabiano and Anderson stressed the importance of preventative medicine and said that tele appointments are available for those who wish to see a primary care doctor.

“The best time to see your primary care physician is when you are well. Meeting with your physician to discuss your risk factors for serious illnesses such as cancers, heart disease, diabetes and others, allows your physician to create a preventative care plan that can include immunizations and cancer tests to stay ahead of what might be down the road and allows them to catch early warning signs,” Anderson said.

To make an appointment with a family practice physician, or for more information, visit www.healdsburghospital.org.

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