Dr. Steve Strongwater, President & CEO of Atrius Health, recently participated in a Senate listening session about COVID-19 and reopening from a provider’s perspective. The discussion was hosted by Senator Cindy Friedman, Chair of the state’s Senate Committee on Healthcare Finance along with Senators Jo Comerford and Adam Hinds. In addition to Dr. Strongwater, other panelists included Dr. David Rosman, President of the Massachusetts Medical Society, and Donna Kelly-Williams, RN, President of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
In his comments, Dr. Strongwater emphasized the critical importance of primary care, the need for continued support for telehealth, and allowing staff to practice at the top of their license as well as strengthening the availability of childcare for parents.
Dr. Strongwater recapped many of the efforts undertaken by Atrius Health to serve patients at the beginning of the pandemic, including the establishment of a large call center with 100 nurses to address COVID-19 concerns, expansion of urgent care and establishment of drive-through testing at some of our sites. He noted that during the three weeks from the end of March to mid-April, our COVID phone line fielded 11,000 calls, triaging patients to the right care — with fewer than 100 patients directed to emergency departments.
“Our front line primary care providers cared for and protected patients as well as emergency departments from unnecessary exposure, while assuring access throughout the pandemic,” he said.
As Massachusetts continues to reopen, Dr. Strongwater underscored the importance of legislators and policymakers supporting primary care providers across the state. This involves enacting legislation such as the Patients First Act, which improves access to care by requiring telehealth payments from insurers to continue at the same reimbursement rate as in-person visits. He also encouraged the legislature to help providers secure additional PPE and testing supplies, and work towards a goal of moving the state away from fee-for-service payments toward value-based approaches to care.
“For the Commonwealth, whether in a pandemic, or during more normal times, primary care will help patients recover, manage chronic conditions, and provide the screenings and vaccinations they need,” he said.
We thank the Senate for convening this panel and look forward to our continued work with the legislature to best serve our patients throughout the pandemic.