Family doctor seeks out new approach

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BRATTLEBORO — When a 4-year-old had mistaken the new family medical practice on Elliot Street for a library, Dr. Jeremy Morrison was happy.

"I was like, yes, this is what I was going for," he said with a smile, sitting in front of a bookcase in the waiting room.

Morrison quietly opened Home Farm Family Medicine at 62 Elliot St. in Brattleboro in September. He said he wants to try new things.

For instance, he started opening for early visits at 7:30 a.m and he stays open later, until 7:30 p.m. The idea is to allow people more opportunities to be seen for appointments.

Home Farm Family Medicine will be open one day a week until February when Morrison transfers to full time at his own practice. He has been working at Putney Family Healthcare, a Brattleboro Memorial Hospital Medical Group, for about three years. He will keep hours there through January.

"We are pleased that Dr. Morrison is staying in the area to provide care for our community and that he will remain a member of the BMH Medical Staff," Gina Pattison, director of development and marketing at the hospital, said in an email.

The hospital hired Dr. Sabina Morissette, who will start at Putney Family Healthcare on Jan. 2. Pattinson said Morrison's patients have been notified via letter about their primary care provider options.

Morrison said he will miss the Putney community.

"It's really nice there," he said.

The hospital is "really committed to keeping access to primary care," Morrison said. Before taking too many new patients, he is waiting to see how many of his current patients decide to see him in Brattleboro.

Morrison said the hospital is recruiting more providers in Brattleboro and Putney.

"There's still a big deficit for primary care here," he added.

Morrison said he has a vision for what he wants a family practice to be — "a little old fashioned in some ways but a little more integrated, too." He is offering addiction therapy with plans to provide behavioral health and social work.

That is something the hospital is trying to do, Morrison said, but "I think it's harder for them because they have a bunch of different practices. They have to change them all at once when they do something."

By opening his own practice, Morrison sees himself going against a national trend.

"It's hard now," he said. "You come out of school with so much debt. To take on more to open a practice seems crazy."

He said a lot of people start out working in hospital systems, and hospitals are buying small practices to maintain access to health care in their communities. He lauded BMH in its efforts to do so but noted that it is difficult to recruit new staff.

Currently, Morrison has a medical assistant and office manager. When he opens full time, he plans to hire another medical assistant and a full-time nurse. Eventually, his hope is to hire a therapist and social worker. He also is open to sharing the space with another practitioner.

The practice has been open Thursdays.

"It's been good so far," Morrison said. "It's mostly patients I know already. They just shifted here from Putney because they live nearby or it's easy for them to get here."

He said parking can be somewhat difficult to find, although spaces are usually always available at the nearby Brattleboro Transportation Center.

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The space on Elliot Street had previously been home to Brattleboro Holistic Health Center and did not require much renovation. Morrison said four rooms were already set up for treatment. Inside, walls were repainted, carpets were put down in treatment rooms and new flooring was installed.

"It's a work in progress," Morrison said.

He said it takes about six months for a new practice to start getting insurance money so he has planned for that gap. Among other insurance, he accepts Vermont and New Hampshire Medicaid, which helps people with limited resources, and Medicare, which is a federal program for disabled and elderly people. He has seen people who have been in the process of getting insured. He noted that community groups such as Groundworks Collaborative and Southeastern Vermont Community Action will assist with finding people insurance.

Morrison grew up in Baltimore then lived locally for about 20 years before moving to central Vermont then Burlington. He moved away when taking his medical residency at University of Massachusetts.

His wife is from Norwich, which is about an hour away from Brattleboro.

"We wanted to come back to Vermont," Morrison said. "We both grew up in this traditional music and dancing community."

Morrison said he and his wife enjoy local contra dancing sessions and have a lot of friends in the area.

His grandfather had been a neurosurgeon and his uncle was a general practitioner.

"And I never wanted to do medicine," Morrison said, "because I don't think they were very happy at home."

He worked as a cook for a while and graduated from college with a degree in philosophy. Around the time he turned 30 years old, he decided he wanted to do something with more of an impact.

Morrison briefly considered being a teacher but thought his love of science and reading would be well served in the medical field. He attended medical school at the age of 35, about a decade ago, and said he is glad he went.

"It was a lot of work but I love the work," he said. "It's fun."

He described the job as both frustrating and rewarding.

"But you really can make a difference," he said.

Morrison said he has been able to create a place for people who have been marginalized to feel like they are at home talking among family or friends.

"I think we certainly strove for that feeling at the clinic in Putney and they still do," he said, "and we do that here, too."

He anticipates he will make a little less than he made working for the hospital.

"But I think I'll at least get to try new stuff and not feel like I'm constrained in that area," he said.

Morrison called it "fun" being downtown.

"I mean, it's hard for me not to get sucked into the bookstore or whatever," he said. "It's a nice town."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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