CONWAY — North Country Healthcare is expanding its specialty medical services in the Mount Washington Valley.
The organization, a non-profit affiliate of three northern New Hampshire hospitals — Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin, Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital in Colebrook and Weeks Medical Center in Lancaster — held a ribbon cutting July 31 at its new outreach clinic at 1976 White Mountain Highway in North Conway (next to Sea Dog Brewing Co.).
The clinic, which opened June 12, is home to a pain management office led by Kelly DeFeo. Ear, nose and throat specialist Richard Kardell, D.O., also will soon start seeing patients once a month.
Both providers have offices at Androscoggin Valley Hospital.
DeFeo, a certified registered nurse anesthetist for more than 25 years and family nurse practitioner since 2013, is a pain management specialist and a diplomate of the American Academy of Pain Management.
DeFeo also is a certifying provider for medical cannabis for Maine and New Hampshire patients.
A resident of Conway, she has worked in the Mount Washington Valley for years, including 2012-14 at a pain clinic at the same location as the new outreach clinic.
She noted that while the space looks similar to how it did five years ago, the facility has been updated.
“I’m very happy. It’s a beautiful space, and it’s very convenient for my patients below the Notch. Most important, it serves the community,” she said.
James Patry, senior director of patient experience and marketing at the clinic, said North Country Healthcare opened it because of the demand from patients who live in the valley and travel to Berlin for the services, primarily the pain clinic.
“It made sense to meet them where they are,” Patry said.
Prior to opening the clinic, DeFeo met with patients at Saco River Medical Group offices in Glen once a week, but the demand outgrew that space.
Patry said, “This is the first time we’ve really got a presence in the valley, so we see it as a good learning opportunity.”
DeFeo has a wholistic approach to pain management and educates patients about different approaches, including over-the-counter and prescription medications, topical creams, physical therapy, acupuncture and exercise.
DeFeo says she sees many patients who have been prescribed opioid painkillers and want to find a different approach to managing their pain.
Services offered at the clinic will include:
• Multi-modal migraine and headache treatments, including Botox.
• Corticosteroid injections for joint pain (hip, knee, shoulder, etc.).
• Medication evaluation, optimization and possible management for chronic pain conditions.
• Evaluation and management for chronic pain conditions including spine, osteoarthritis and neuropathic pain conditions.
• Palliative care consultation and management.
The pain clinic is open two days a week. DeFeo estimated she sees 15-20 patients each day. She is accepting new patients.
The ribbon cutting drew staff from Sanctuary ATC, the new medical marijuana dispensary in Conway, and White Horse Addiction Center. Representatives from those facilities said they were happy to have a pain clinic in town that provides alternatives to addictive painkillers.
Sanctuary ATC dispensary manager Forest Steinberg said the dispensary has a good working relationship with DeFeo.
“She’s all-encompassing,” Steinberg said. “She talks about (patients') whole life. We’re incredibly appreciative of her being around. She’s an incredible asset to the cannabis community.”
Like DeFeo, Steinberg said the dispensary helps patients get off opioids and their potentially dangerous side effects.
The dispensary provides therapeutic cannabis and consultations to New Hampshire medical marijuana card holders.
“We work with doctors to get people off opiates and stop withdrawal affects so they can start rebuilding the body,” Steinberg said. “Cannabis has no adverse side affects, and you are not worried about overdose. You can’t die from cannabis.”
Also on hand for the ribbon cutting were several senior staff and board members from Androscoggin Valley Hospital, including hospital president Michael Peterson; Maria Mencio, the hospital's clinical supervisor of specialty practices; board member Jay Poulin; and treasurer Max Makaitis.
Peterson said specialty services at the outreach clinic are expected to complement rather than compete with services offered at North Conway's Memorial Hospital.
“We’re providing services here that Memorial Hospital doesn’t,” Peterson said. “We want to be collaborators, not competitors.”
He called the location of the clinic on Route 16 in North Conway “a great space, really high profile.”
Poulin said he believes “the space provides some flexibility for us moving forward.”
There is already talk of adding a podiatrist from Weeks Medical Center, neurological services and an offshoot from the state’s Doorway program, which helps people find services to recover from opioid addiction.