United by a Common Vision
For both Dr. Wessinger and Dr. Greenhouse, independent practice is key to how they serve their patients.
Dr. Wessinger, a South Carolina native, attended the Medical University of South Carolina, and did his residency at the Children’s Hospital of Alabama. In 1989, he was the fifth doctor to join the Sandhills Pediatrics. He’s seen the practice open satellite offices over time, and bring in additional pediatricians, but they’ve always remained committed to their overarching philosophy when it comes to patient care.
“We were always pretty fiercely independent and did not want to become hospital employees,” he says.
That same approach serves as the foundation for Palmetto Pediatrics and underlies Dr. Greenhouse’s history. After attending Clemson University on a fencing scholarship, Dr. Greenhouse attended Emory University School of Medicine – she met her husband on the first day of medical school – and then completed her pediatrics residency at Richland Memorial Hospital in Columbia and “never left.” She’s been practicing in the state for 25 years.
“You really do feel like you can make a difference here,” she says. “Pediatrics in South Carolina is a pretty close knit group.”
She points to her office’s location – a roughly five minute drive from the statehouse in Columbia – as helpful when it comes to her involvement in legislative advocacy for children in South Carolina. She also has the ability to teach medical students and residents: Every physician in Palmetto Pediatrics is on the faculty of the South Carolina School of Medicine. Sandhills is also highly involved in education through the medical school. Participation in research through the AAP is another focus – Dr. Greenhouse says being an independent pediatrician gives her the latitude to get involved in projects that make sense for her patient population. She sees a large number of patients with special needs, including cerebral palsy, autism, and Down syndrome.
“We can respond with no middleman and without anyone else telling us what we can and can’t do,” she says. “We are able to do what is best for our patients without having to ask anyone else’s permission.”
And then there are the relationships with patients that stretch across generations. This comes after over two decades practicing in the community, Dr. Wessinger says. He often sees former patients who now have kids of their own.
“I’ve seen a fair number from cradle through college,” he says. “If I’m going to see a first baby in the room the first thing I do is look at the demographics to see if I know one of the parents already. I’d say half the time I do.”
Moments when those connections shine through – when you can point out how much a child looks like her mom, for example – bring another dimension to the work.
“You say that and mom just beams,” says Dr. Wessinger.
Next up for the SCPA? A free-standing newborn and lactation support center, long a dream for both practices, but made possible courtesy of the broader patient population and pooled resources of the alliance. The South Carolina Lactation and Newborn Wellness Center – set to open in West Columbia in the fall of 2017 – is envisioned as a third care center for the Alliance and a resource for all pediatricians in the metropolitan area. The space will be set up specifically for new mothers to allow them to access resources and services in a “spa-like” and supportive atmosphere. Future possibilities for the building include a pediatric wellness center that provides nutrition services and obesity-related programming. Another goal for the SCPA is to offer additional pediatric mental health services – like many parts of the country, it is a dire need for their community – but they are still working on a staffing model that’s financially viable, says Dr. Wessinger.
Still, the GPWW gives the SCPA the latitude to continue to explore ways to meet their patients’ needs in new and exciting ways, including the possibility for the organization to expand into other areas of the state. As the SCPA forges ahead with their young organization, Dr. Greenhouse points to a conversation she had with her daughter, who is starting medical school in the fall, as a good sign for their venture.
“She said she could see herself joining a practice like mine, and being happy in a practice like mine,” says Dr. Greenhouse. “For someone who is about to enter the study of medicine to say that, in my view that tells us we are doing something right.”