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Catholic doctor giving up patient care to reform healthcare nationally

Posted By July 3, 2014 | 12:47 pm | Lead Story #1

By Tanya Connor

GARDNER – Obamacare wasn’t proposed to fix the medical system, a local Catholic doctor said last week. Rather, it aims to encourage others to repair that system.
Dr. Paul Carpentier, founder of In His Image Family Medicine in Gardner, is leaving his practice to help do that.
National health care reformers encompass leaders in the Catholic Church, medical insurance companies and state governments with Medicaid insurance plans, he said.
“As … I meet with leaders, they say, ‘Where are the doctors? How come none of the doctors are stepping forward?’” he said.
“The doctors can’t step forward because the current system has them working 60 to 80 hours (a week) just to make ends meet,” Dr. Carpentier said. “So to take a day off to head into Boston to testify for five minutes – it would do us in. So to truly engage in health care reform they need some doctors to step away from their practice and reform the system.”
So Dr. Carpentier is closing In His Image Aug. 22. He said he has already started working part time in his new position, as a medical director of primary care at Accountable Care Associates, a reform think tank well respected by physicians organizations and insurance companies. He is to start there full time Sept. 1, while his wife, Suzanne, closes down In His Image, where she is office manager.
He will not be caring for patients directly; he’ll work with the doctors, and the systems that help the doctors, developing methods of improving care which will lower costs, he said.
Dr. Philip Gaziano, a Catholic doctor who worked in Springfield,  founded ACA and now is its CEO, Dr. Carpentier said. He said Dr. Gaziano realized he could improve the quality of care in the Springfield area, so he and his wife, A. Felicitas Thurmayr, a medical doctor and an informatics specialist, developed tools to do that.
ACA has been evolving for the past 15 years, Dr. Carpentier said. An ACA representative said that in the last three years ACA has grown from about 35 to 135 employees. It is headquartered in Springfield and has offices in Auburn, the Boston area and California.
Dr. Carpentier said the ACA was interested in him because he is a primary care specialist and a specialist in restorative reproductive medicine, the science of helping to restore a patient’s fertility. NaProTECHNOLOGY is the elite training he’s had to do that. It is consistent with Catholic teaching.
He said ACA asked him to focus on primary care the first year, working mainly from Springfield, then work to improve the care of infertile couples. He will teach doctors restorative reproductive medicine and develop pilot programs to show insurance companies it works.
“The people involved in the reform movement nationally are very interested in hearing from private practice doctors because that’s a less expensive way to deliver care than the big medical groups … which have layers of administration,” Dr. Carpentier said. “All those administrators need to be paid. But the small-practice doctors have less administration. In my practice, I’m the president and my wife is the office manager and we both have biology degrees.
“The small practices are in jeopardy because the system is passing regulation after regulation and the small practices have trouble meeting all of these regulations.” He said the federal and state governments, insurance companies, those seeking to ensure safety, and other entities set regulations.
National leaders are interested in doctors from Massachusetts because of their experience with the state’s health care system, sometimes called “Romneycare,” Dr. Carpentier said.
“‘Romneycare’ was the model for ‘Obamacare,’” he said. “So they’re interested in us because we’ve had a head start on coping with the changes that are occurring nationwide.
“Meanwhile, Catholic leaders are hoping for Catholic doctors to be involved in the reform movement. Catholic doctors are particularly sensitive to values inherent in health care, such as suffering, physician-patient relationship, the value of fertility, the importance of marriage and the stability of the family.”        So, Dr. Carpentier said, he’s been studying health care reform, taking special courses, even ones in public speaking, preparing for a valuable opportunity to come along. Along came Accountable Care Associates.
“They have already built a reputation of greatly improving quality of care in Massachusetts,” Dr. Carpentier said. “They are trying to lessen the doctors’ administrative burden and improve patient outcomes.  …
“And improved quality of care saves money for the insurance companies. Insurance companies are seeking out ACA to help them.” So are state governments across the United States and representatives in some foreign countries.
Dr. Carpentier said that by helping hundreds of doctors, he can help hundreds of thousands of patients. But that means his 1,400 family practice patients, who he sees in his office or in Heywood Hospital, with which he is affiliated, need to find another doctor. So do his 500 NaProTECHNOLOGY patients.
He said some are switching to Mercy Family Practice, the private family practice of Dr. John Worden and his wife, Dr. Rebecca Worden, members of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, who share a suite with In His Image. Both are trained in NaProTECHNOLOGY. Dr. Rebecca Worden will take half of his family practice patients, he said.
Some can go to Dr. Mark Rollo, a Catholic and restorative reproductive medicine specialist, who has his own family practice in Fitchburg.
“I realize that my patients will have quite the hardship in transitioning … but I hope that they can trust this is an important move for the country,” Dr. Carpentier said.
Asked if taking the new position is part of living his Catholic faith, he replied, “I’m very confident this is the direction I’m called to help in, at this point in history.
“Even I’m surprised, because I’m so well trained in taking care of patients … but now … I feel called to apply my 25 years’ experience to reform the system. …
“Pope John Paul warned the United States in the early 1980s that we were focusing too much on regulations, that focusing on regulations loses sight of the values and the goals of care – the well-being … of patients.”
So Catholic leaders think it’s important to have Catholic insights in health care reform, to be like leaven in bread, and have encouraged him to take this step, he said.
The National Catholic Bioethics Center encouraged it because of the potential he has to help foster respect for religious freedom of providers, patients and organizations, including businesses, he said.
The member of Our Lady of Holy Rosary Parish spoke of living his faith in the world as a Catholic layman.
“So it’s basically a stewardship of my insights and talents,” he said. “And it’s not just about me; it’s people that have trained me, connections I have made across the country – God working through all of us.”