A staple establishment of the Island medical community is on track to blaze new trails after a recent change of ownership brings with it an added focus on clinical research, including into tick-borne illnesses and laboratory diagnostics.
Vineyard Medical Services, the 27-year-old walk-in clinic and primary care practice founded by Dr. Michael Jacobs, was sold last week to Michael Loberg of Vineyard Haven for an undisclosed price. Dr. Jacobs will step back from his former position as medical director, which will be taken up by Dr. Gerald Yukevich. Dr. Yukevich has had his own primary care practice at the clinic for seven years. Nurse practictioners Carol Forgione, Marcy Holmes and Marcia Dineen also remain on staff, along with office manager Rebecca Flanders. Lena Prisco, former laboratory director at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, will be in charge of medical operations.
“It’s very gratifying to have colleagues like the ones that are assembled here now,” Dr. Yukevich said on Thursday.
Vineyard Medical Services officially became Vineyard Medical Care last Friday.
“The exciting thing for me is to see that the practice will continue under new ownership, with new resources and new energy, maybe some additional staff and medical providers,” Dr. Jacobs told the Gazette in a phone conversation Thursday. He said the decision to sell the business was not a recent one. The ultimate goal was not the sale of the practice, but rather an assurance that it would be continued.
He retains ownership of the building itself, and is leasing the property to Vineyard Medical Care.
Mr. Loberg said Thursday that Vineyard Medical Care was “a chance to continue to make available a valuable service.”
The establishment of Vineyard Medical Care also created an opportunity to continue a different type of service. Dr. Jacobs, Dr. Yukevich, Mr. Loberg and Ms. Prisco are all part of a medical education committee formed in 2010 as part of a tick-borne illness reduction initiative. Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are a persistent public health concern on the Vineyard. The tick program is funded by a grant from the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, but that funding expires next year.
A center will be created at Vineyard Medical Care to further the educational work of the tick program, ensuring that the efforts and accomplishments carried out under the grant do not disappear.
“In addition, [the center] can do one thing that we can’t do right now,” Mr. Loberg said. “It could do clinical research to develop better tests for tick-borne illnesses. We believe strongly, having worked in it, that we need better tests and better treatments.”
Both Mr. Loberg and Ms. Prisco have considerable experience with clinical trials. Coincidentally, both worked at Bristol-Myers Squibb in Connecticut, although they were in different areas there. Both hold doctorates — Mr. Loberg’s is in chemistry, while Ms. Prisco’s is in pharmacology.
“There’s a real need here on the Island to be able to serve patients who’ve been affected by any tick-borne illness, but Lyme especially,” Ms. Prisco said. “And there is a gap in diagnostics for the disease which, though not inaccurate, are highly variable because they are based on people’s individual responses to Lyme. A better test would find the Lyme bacteria itself.”
The clinic began working with Columbia University on trials over the summer, but Dr. Jacobs said it was challenging to balance the projects with the everyday needs of the practice. The research center will be a supportive platform for future efforts, Mr. Loberg said.
For other diagnostic blood work, Ms. Prisco will also be establishing a point-of-care laboratory at the medical practice, so patients will be able to have results in real time. Ms. Prisco has already begun to gather materials for the lab and said she expects it to be up and running by the beginning of next month. Point-of-care labs are common in larger cities.
“It’s a very interesting service,” Ms. Prisco said. “It’s nice to provide for patients.
“The only place, really, where you have that immediate access is if you go to the emergency room,” she said. “The beauty of the walk-in clinic is that it serves all non-emergency people. You shouldn’t have to go [to the ER]; you should have an option.”
“We’re aspirational, and I think as we see opportunities to meet the medical needs of Islanders, we will invest accordingly,” Mr. Loberg said. “Today’s challenge is to make this seamless from the patient’s perspective.”
“I’m very pleased for Dr. Jacobs to be able to turn what he has largely created over, to continue with his goals and his traditions,” Dr. Yukevich said. “In terms of the practice itself, I’d say we’re just continuing what Michael started, and I’m very proud to do so.”
Dr. Jacobs first decided to become a physician because it was a career path that was also a calling. Practicing medicine, he said, “didn’t need any further justification.”
“I was due to become a philosopher,
and I decided I’d be much better as a physician caring for people, trying to relieve their suffering and pain,” he said. He graduated from the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn and completed his residency and internship at Columbia University before spending time at the National Institutes of Health and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard University’s teaching hospital. He moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1975.
“I came down here immediately after [Harvard], seeing that they needed more younger physicians,” Dr. Jacobs said. “They hadn’t had a new physician join the Island in at least 20 years.” He and the late Russell Hoxsie were the first primary care physicians to practice in what was then a newly built hospital. The pair worked together until 1987, when Dr. Hoxsie decided he was going to scale back his own practice. At the same time, Dr. Jacobs decided he wanted to be more involved in the community.
“I’ve always thought it was a great privilege to be a practicing physician,” he said. He purchased the building on State Road in 1987 and established the model still in use today.
“It’s really not a clinic in the technical sense of the word,” he explained. By seeing both walk-in patients and scheduling appointments, Dr. Jacobs said, “we tried to straddle primary care and urgent care.”
“It seems to serve the needs of the community, which was what we wanted to do,” he said. The practice was intended to complement the services of the hospital, offering primary care “at different levels with a different structure,” Dr. Jacobs said.
The system is an admittedly complicated one, and is one that works in large part due to the efforts of the nurse practitioners and support staff.
“They are a major, major part of the care that we deliver to the Island residents,” Dr. Jacobs said. His first nurse practitioner, Katherine Hough, worked for him for 25 years.
He said he is not retiring (“I don’t know which way to swing the racket in golf,” he joked), but has plenty to keep himself busy, including writing a chapter for a textbook.
Vineyard Medical Care will remain a private practice, as it has been since Dr. Jacobs first started his career here.
“I’m just very excited about all of this change taking place,” said Dr. Jacobs. “I think they’ll have a bright future.”