The Block Island Times

New medical director seeks to build bridges

By Gloria S. Redlich | Jan 20, 2013
Photo by: Stephanie Turaj

Barbara Baldwin, who has been appointed the new executive director at Block Island Health Services, says her “first priority is to build bridges with the community.” She is coming in to fill the post held most recently in an interim capacity by Dr. Peter Baute since Monty Stover, who served in that role for more than a decade, stepped down last summer.

Sitting in on a recent BIHS board meeting that was taken up largely with budget issues, Baldwin recognizes that she will be expected to help raise funds and increase patient visits.

“The ability to increase revenues depends on the confidence the community has in me,” Baldwin says. She plans to reach out to see what residents think about what direction the health center should take. Of equal importance to Baldwin is to make sure the center is “seeing people who need to be seen and providing services needed here that we can provide.”

‘See how it goes’

As to building the patient base, Baldwin intends to encourage island residents to rely on BIHS for their primary care, while maintaining contact with their own mainland specialists. She invites them to “try it and see how it goes.” In fact, she hopes to educate the public to the values of the local center through her own example — using it for her personal medical care. As she settles down in the island community, Baldwin says, “I would rather use my energy going off to the theater or the philharmonic than for off-island doctor appointments.” She’s hoping others will follow suit.

Baldwin has been employed in the administrative end of the health care industry for many years. Between 1977 and 2000, she served as executive director of Planned Parenthood for three states (not simultaneously): Rhode Island, Tennessee and Georgia. She was largely involved with marketing medical services, financing and financial reporting, outreach and education, advocacy and a great deal of development work, meaning “ lots of fundraising.”

During much of her time with Planned Parenthood, the national agency was under siege by groups picketing it, as continues to be the case in many locations today. Associating the organization primarily with abortion, rather than as a resource for women’s health care, many groups have protested Planned Parenthood and its facilities. Baldwin says she often escorted patients past those attempting to blockade clinic entrances. She adds that she was director in Providence in 1994 when two women were killed at two Boston Planned Parenthood clinics.

Give away money

From 2000 on, Baldwin has managed large collaborative programs focusing on cancer care and children’s health. For the past five years she has served as program manager for Rhode Island Healthy Kids Initiative, which developed programs in lead abatement. Through the efforts of then State Attorney General Patrick Lynch to reach an agreement with the DuPont Corporation, this program resulted in lead remediation of over 600 homes over a three-year period.

“It was the only job I had in which I got to give away money,” Baldwin says.

Lauding the island Mental Health Task Force for developing a telemedicine program for island residents seeking mental healthcare, Baldwin points to her work in rural medicine in Arizona. There a similar program was established to provide general medical care to Native Americans who lived on reservations. A patient would be seen by a nurse, who after a preliminary examination might discover a medical issue and then connect with a physician’s office through a Skype-like program.

At that time, if needed, the patient could consult directly with the physician.

Though the situation on Block Island is different in many ways, Baldwin sees “a great deal of potential” in telemedicine hook-ups. For example, she says the telemedicine system being implemented might serve an educational end for the island medical staff, allowing them to observe doctors and residents in hospitals on the mainland.

Friend’s influence

Growing up in Philadelphia, Baldwin, received a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Denison University in Ohio. Pursuing her graduate studies, she was nine hours away from an MBA from Westminster College in Utah. Baldwin traces her interest in the health services field to a family friend who was the first woman graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Medical School.

The friend encouraged Baldwin to look at Public Health, and subsequently she did, beginning with a position at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Community Medicine in Philadelphia. Discovering it was a natural fit, she has remained in public health ever since. Of the many posts she’s held, Baldwin says most have been managerial, while a few have involved research and statistics.

In advance of moving to the island Baldwin has resigned from several boards, among them RiversEdge, an at-risk youth program concentrating on the arts, as well as the boards of the Rhode Island Cancer Council and Rhode Islanders for Abortion Rights (formerly known as 2 to 1 to Preserve Choice).

Baldwin, who has visited the island for years, says she fell in love with it long ago and is quite anxious to make it her home. Her husband, Richard Herranen, is a case manager for Family Resources Community Action working to assist HIV and AIDs patients in Woonsocket.

While the couple has a home in Providence, Baldwin has taken a year-round rental on island and says her husband “anticipates coming out and spending time on the island often.” Though she plans to spend most of her time here, she foresees alternating weekends in each location. They have two grown children, a daughter and son, each with two children of their own, all living in New Jersey.

Billing is complicated

Returning to the issue of raising revenues, which is much on her mind, Baldwin says, “The art of third-party billing… has become increasingly complicated.” In the interest of “maximizing reimbursement rates,” she says, “it’s really important to understand the medical coding system.”

She strongly believes that an electronic medical records system can “improve the revenue stream from private insurances, Medicaid and Medicare.” She notes the Affordable Health Care Act will extend coverage to many previously uncovered, which may help the patient base grow at the local center. Emphasis, she feels, must fall in three areas: educating the public that coverage exists, understanding that “coding properly can improve revenue streams” and expanding fundraising.

Baldwin was very pleased at the board meeting when “an individual from the audience [Gerry Comeau] suggested building a fundraising campaign to increase the level of the endowment.” Baldwin thinks it important because “as long as the endowment diminishes, interest diminishes,” potentially leaving the medical center with a shortfall thereafter.

As for grants, Baldwin says in her experience it’s important for BIHS to find foundations that focus on rural health care. Inevitably, she adds, “more and more responsibility falls back on the community to do more fundraising.” She hopes she can generate continued interest in doing so.

Though she officially starts her job on February 1, Baldwin has been on island working with Baute to affect the transition into the director’s position. On the top of her priorities is making certain that “BIHS is working as hard as it can to provide the health service that everyone needs, regardless of age, income or health status.” In the pursuit of that goal, she sees herself as a “medical navigator.”

Acknowledging the friction in the community since Stover’s departure from the center last summer, Baldwin hopes that “we can put some of the past behind us and move forward, concentrating on the mission of the center, while understanding we can all learn from our challenges.”

While familiarizing herself with the medical center and its routine, Baldwin has also been getting acquainted with the island community. She is looking forward to her work, to joining a local book group and to making the island her home.

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