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By David Hens

Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center's Primary Care Center opened its doors a little over a year ago and already has become one of the busiest such offices in the area.

While other facilities are saturated, NFMMC is welcoming new patients and all insurances with open arms.

"One of the things that makes them pretty popular is that they're able to accept new patients here," said hospital spokesman Pat Bradley. "Most places can no longer bring people in, so we see a lot of new faces and it is a very busy place."

Such widespread growth couldn't be a better omen for a program that in its infancy employed only four physicians as part of the residency and now boasts 10.

The expansion is a product of the visionary mind of hospital President Joseph A. Ruffolo, whose direction has been an invaluable asset.

"Joe was very instrumental in establishing the relationship with Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and bringing this residency program here," said Bradley. "It's no secret we have seen a growing volume of patients in the Emergency Room since we opened the ER1, and we are very gratified by that."

As a result of its partnership with Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, the accessibility of primary care in Niagara County has improved and the growing level of community confidence has inspired the team to make sure that the public is well informed on their options.

"In many cases, the Emergency Room is not the best place for the patient to receive care," said Bradley. "Sometimes, if their visits are what we term 'inappropriate,' it's better that people should be seen by primary care doctors. People should have a good relationship with a primary care/family care doctor who can monitor their health and wellness situation, getting any tests that they should be getting at the appropriate ages. From an economic standpoint, it is much more efficient to deliver care in a primary care environment."

In today's barren economic times, efficiency is essential to maintaining excellence in the face of budget cuts, and the strength of this program lies in the physicians themselves.

Dr. Laurie L. Kilbury Taylor, who is board certified in both Family Medicine and Emergency Medicine, and Dr. Giuseppina J. Kenyon Savard are charged with the task of training the residents. Bradley believes their efforts separate NFMMC from the rest of the pack.

"One of the attractive things for the doctors who come here is our family practice residency program," said Bradley. "It's the only residency program, so all of our educational efforts are geared toward that, to make wonderful physicians. So, we kind of have a 'farm system' here."

While some may view the sports analogy as an apt description, Taylor does not agree.

"I don't like that word," she said. "We train them the way we like and don't give them away to some other community. We also offer the fact that we are osteopathic physicians, so we have a lot of 'hands on.' Osteopaths are trained a little bit more in anatomy and can do more manual medicine rather than prescribe drugs, tests and surgery."

Taylor stands behind her staff.

"We get physicians who are physicians," she said. "They have graduated from college, completed Osteopathic Medical School and have passed two steps of their training exams. Most are third- and fourth-year medical students.

"Part of the curriculum for residents here is rotations or modules in separate topics. They have rotations in Cardiology, Neurology, Emergency and Inpatient Medicine, Outpatient Family Medicine and Sports Medicine."

First-year resident Darryl Wenner reported, "The residency experience has been great so far. We've had excellent support from the administration. They make sure we are getting our education while we are doing our work, and everybody has been driven to help me become a better physician."

That combination of specialized physicians and ambitious residents has proven to be a recipe for success in Niagara Falls, and Taylor feels that the progress is just beginning.

"People get better care at the hospital," she said. "There are more people involved in making sure they get tests done, and all the tests are looked at, and all the details are managed, because there is an extra person involved in their care team."

Whether you're a patient in search of a more personalized touch, or an aspiring physician eager to dive into the field, the Primary Care Center at Niagara Falls Memorial is open for business.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Oct. 11, 2011