‘Proud to be part of the community’
Almost exactly a year ago, in March 2018, Gifford President and CEO Dan Bennett told those gathered for our last (112th) Annual Meeting that our “deep roots in primary care will guide us through the uncertainty in the current health-care environment.” It’s an assertion he and our senior leadership team would double down on over the last several months by continually investing in our greatest resource—people—including hiring four new providers to join Gifford Primary Care.
These new providers, all of whom started in the fall, share a strong commitment to central Vermont and the people who live here, their neighbors.
“We are a group of practitioners who live in this community and deeply care about the individuals here,” said newest team member Rachel Coombs, MD, who joined Bethel Health Center in November 2018. “We are committed to public health, to family wellness, and to each individual we take care of. Because we understand the community here, we can relate to our patients on a deeper level.”
Dr. Coombs and our other new additions in Primary Care are profiled here:
“I am very tightly tied to my community—central Vermont is my home—and Gifford is small, intimate, warm and caring,” said Physician Assistant Katherine Clemente, who has been seeing patients in Randolph since October 2018.
As a PA, Clemente provides a wide range of care services and has clinical interests in women’s health and sports medicine. The Vermont native, who finds making connections with patients the most rewarding aspect of her work, is a familiar face at Gifford, having started her PA career six years ago at Gifford’s Rochester Health Center. Since then, she has gained additional experience as a PA throughout Vermont: at Northern Counties Health Care in Concord, Green Mountain Orthopedic Surgery/Central Vermont Orthopedic and Sports Medicine in Berlin, and Associates in Orthopaedic Surgery in South Burlington. She earned a master’s degree in physician assistant studies from Franklin Pierce University in West Lebanon, N.H., and a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
When not at work, Clemente enjoys mountain biking, skiing, climbing, making stained glass, blacksmithing, woodworking, and spending time with her two dogs.
Dr. Rachel Coombs works with patients at all stages of life, from newborn to geriatric, including providing prenatal, birth, and postpartum care. She sees family medicine as the foundation of a healthy society.
“For me, the most rewarding aspect of practicing family medicine is the ability to connect with people about what is most important to them. This allows us to create a shared vision of health and work toward it together,” said Coombs, who enjoys providing care in a full-spectrum practice. “I am able to care for the entire family, from pregnancy, birth, and beyond through geriatrics and everything in between. Seeing my patients in their family context helps me understand them on a deeper level, which is so important for community health.”
“I love being part of a true community hospital,” she said. “Everyone here is proud to be part of the community, and we truly treat patients like family.”
Originally from Pennsylvania, Coombs has lived in Vermont for over eight years. Her clinical interests include women’s health, LGBTQ health, and adolescent medicine. She completed her residency with New Hampshire Dartmouth Family Medicine Residency at Concord Hospital; is a member of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians; and holds certifications in Advanced Life Support in Obstetrics (ALSO), Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), and Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP). She earned her medical degree from Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., and a bachelor’s degree from Brown University in Providence, R.I. She completed post-baccalaureate studies at Dartmouth College and at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. She also attended Birthwise Midwifery School in Bridgton, Maine, where she earned her Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) credential.
Coombs’ volunteer experience includes providing medical care in Nicaragua and Honduras, as well as representing Vermont children and families at the Shambhala Meditation Center in White River Junction. She also has experience working on dairy farms throughout northern New England. At home, she keeps busy with family, including three stepsons and two daughters, and enjoys singing and playing the guitar, banjo and ukulele.
“I love connecting with patients, getting to know them and the community I serve,” said Dr. Emilija Florance, who has been practicing in Randolph and Berlin since September. “I knew Vermont was where I wanted to be, and I prefer small hospitals to big ones.”
Florance sees patients of all ages, newborn to geriatric, and provides a wide range of care, from chronic disease management to women’s health. She completed her residency at Riverside Family Medicine in Newport News, Va., and is a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians and Virginia Academy of Family Physicians. She earned her medical degree from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in Richmond and a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Polytechnic and State University in Blacksburg. In medical school, she served as co-president of the Student Family Medicine Association, on the school’s admissions committee, and in other leadership roles. Her previous experience in event planning and hotel management on cruise ships included travel to the Panama Canal, British Columbia, and Alaska.
Florance brings to her new role a deep connection to the local area, having spent summers and holidays with family in Randolph for many years. As a teenager, she even volunteered at the hospital with her great aunt, Margaret Egerton, who served with our chaplaincy program until her death in 2010.
When not at work, Florance enjoys art, baking, and spending time at her family home.
“I prefer the family feel of a smaller hospital,” said Nurse Practitioner Pascale Stephani, who has been seeing patients in Berlin since October.
Stephani provides care to patients of all ages. She brings to Gifford more than 20 years of nursing experience, including 15 years as a dedicated family nurse practitioner. Her clinical interests include women’s health issues, and she takes a team approach to patient care.
“The more informed patients are, the better off they are,” Stephani said. “I am not here to dictate to them. We work as a team. I am here to help people—to teach and to help them get better.”
Originally from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, she moved to Vermont in 2010. Her professional experience includes, most recently, eight years as a family nurse practitioner at Central Vermont Primary Care in Berlin, as well as several years as a staff nurse at health-care facilities in New York, Utah and Canada. She is a registered nurse (RN) and nationally certified nurse-midwife (CNM), women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP) and family nurse practitioner (FNP). She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Montreal, her CNM and WHNP from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and her FNP from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.
When not at work, Stephani stays active with her four children and enjoys snowboarding, biking, hiking, and visiting family in Montreal.
At the close of the year, the Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine team at Gifford was named Vermont’s 2018 “HPV Vaccine Is Cancer Prevention Champion” for outstanding efforts to protect adolescents from cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). The award, announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Cancer Society, and Association of American Cancer Institutes, recognizes clinics and practices that go above and beyond to foster HPV vaccination in their community. Gifford was one of only 32 award recipients nationwide.
According to program officials, “after a thorough review from healthcare professionals committed to achieving high HPV vaccination rates, Gifford Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine is recognized as the most deserving nominee from Vermont.”
“This award reflects the leadership demonstrated by our providers in promoting HPV vaccination in central Vermont,” said Dr. Louis DiNicola, who nominated the Gifford team. “That leadership has included strong internal collaboration, educational programs in our community, and an innovative reminder system designed by Pediatric Nurse Manager Danielle Davis as part of our ongoing HPV Quality Improvement project.”
Since initiating the project, Gifford has achieved a 30 percent increase in the HPV vaccine series completion rate for the patient population aged 13-17, from 51.8 percent in 2016 Quarter 1 to 81 percent today, and to 81.4 percent for the patient population aged 13-15—surpassing the Healthy People 2020 goal of 80 percent coverage.
HPV vaccine is important because it protects against cancers caused by human papillomavirus infection. HPV is a very common virus; nearly 80 million people are currently infected in the United States. Every year in the U.S., 33,700 women and men are diagnosed with a cancer caused by HPV infection. HPV vaccination could prevent more than 90 percent of these cancers—about 31,000—from occurring. Both boys and girls should start the HPV vaccine series when they are 11 or 12 years old and finish all recommended doses before age 13. The HPV vaccine series can be started as early as age 9.