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Clear Path to Health

Amish horse-drawn buggies and panoramic views of rolling hills fill the breathtaking Aroostook County landscape. Patchwork farmland in vibrant shades of green are peppered with potato blossoms by the millions this time of year, and it’s easy to understand, for those who live in the Crown of Maine, why it would be difficult to leave.

Jay Reynolds, MD, TAMC vice president and senior physician executive, and family physician, needs no convincing of the reasons to live in Aroostook County. However, in his line of work, this Fort Fairfield native sees that patients sometimes do have to leave and travel more than 150 miles to access certain specialized healthcare services offered at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. Dr. Reynolds told us that while TAMC  provides its patients with most of the advanced, quality healthcare services they will need, “We just can’t offer everything.”

Vascular care is a specialty service that has been difficult to maintain at the Presque Isle hospital. “TAMC traditionally had a vascular surgeon available locally, but as the years have gone by, we’ve found it harder and harder to recruit vascular surgeons. They are in short supply in many places, especially in rural areas,” said Dr. Reynolds. He added, “Vascular care services are critical in an area, like here, where we have a population with a high rate of smoking, high rate of obesity and diabetes, all of which are risk factors for vascular disease.”

Our veins and arteries are the plumbing of our bodies and tend to be clear, clean and open when we are born. Through the years, they can narrow—due to many factors like diet and lifestyle—to the point where that narrowing affects the areas of the body they are meant to supply. Vascular surgeons like Robert Cambria, MD, vascular surgeon and medical director at EMMC Vascular Care of Maine, use many techniques to open those blockages and allow blood to flow again. “We act as plumbers for the body, we take care of arteries and veins outside of the heart.” Nearly all the advanced vascular procedures available can be done at EMMC Vascular Care of Maine, including operations to the neck to reduce the risk of stroke from carotid artery disease, repairs of aneurisms in the belly, and procedures in the legs to improve blood flow to the feet and varicose veins.

EMMC Vascular Care of Maine staff recognized that they were seeing a lot of patients from northern Maine and approached TAMC about having EMMC Vascular Care of Maine surgeons come to the Presque Isle hospital to provide care, including surgical services. Dr. Reynolds said TAMC jumped on the opportunity and the new arrangement officially rolled out in April of this year. “There is a rotating pool of five or six surgeons from EMMC Vascular Care of Maine. They come up for one week at a time, every three weeks or so.” There has been a strong demand for services, so beginning July 9,  the surgeons increased their visits to every two weeks, according to Carolyn Fetha, director of Eastern Maine Medical Center’s physician practices.         

“There is such a wide array of care we provide,” said Dr. Cambria who knows that access to these in-demand services is vital for our patients. “When I was up at TAMC for the first time, it really struck me: I drove my sub-compact car up there, it took me three hours, I was up there for four days, and saw 30 or 40 patients. So, instead of 30 or 40 elderly people making trips down to Bangor on multiple days, I was able to see them with one trip up and back. It just makes more sense to keep patient care close to home if only to save on gas,” he joked.   

Many of the vascular procedures are done in TAMC’s cardiovascular lab, which has been outfitted with gently used medical equipment from Eastern Maine Medical Center. “This is a real upgrade from the equipment we had and will allow us to continue to offer these services long into the future,” said Dr. Reynolds.

It’s partnerships like these that move EMHS toward high reliability and support our promise to our patients to make healthcare accessible and straightforward. Since April, 84 patients have remained in the picturesque county to receive care instead of making the long trip to Bangor. “We’re going to be delivering even more, and better services to the patients who need vascular care in that region than they have had available to them before,” remarked Dr. Cambria. “I think it’s going to work out really well.”