Falmouth health-care nonprofit True North to close

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FALMOUTH — After nearly 15 years, a local alternative health-care provider will stop providing clinical services at the end of the year.

True North, a nonprofit practice and research organization at 202 U.S. Route 1, recently announced it would stop seeing patients by Dec. 30.

Dr. Bethany Hays, president of the True North board of directors, said the number of practitioners associated with the organization and the overall staff had shrunk over time. She said at its peak, True North had nearly 30 staff members on site. That number is now at 17.

Hays said practitioner turnover became an issue, and it “became obvious filling the space” would equal financial success. She said it also meant the model hinged on recruiting new practitioners, and it became difficult to build the relationships True North became known for.

“It became like being a landlord,” Valenza said.

Hays said there were administrative issues, too, like a new coding system used in medical offices. The system, she said, creates more billing work and requires more staffing, would have further strained True North’s resources.

Catherine Valenza, the organization’s executive director, said True North will continue to conduct research after it stops seeing patients. The first thing staffers will do is create a written analysis of the True North model for other organizations to follow.

Valneza said they “haven’t made all the future decisions yet” regarding how True North will operate going forward, but said it could possibly continue at the current location.

“It’s a see-as-you-go process,” she said.

The organization will also continue to sell supplements for the time being, and deal with the administrative work of providing patients’ new care providers with necessary records and information. Valenza said the website will remain operational as well.

Founded in the early 2000s by three Mercy Hospital nurses, True North grew over time to become an alternative to what Hays called a “broken system” of health care. She said they believed a “small group of healers” could do a better job providing health care in an integrative and collaborative setting.

Hays and Valenza said part of what made True North a success was the relationship built between patients and their care providers.

Hays said a typical person may only see their doctor for a few minutes during a visit, if at all. At True North, she said, practitioners not only spent time with their patients, but also worked with the patient’s complementary care providers, like nutritionists and acupuncturists, in an integrative process.

“We wanted to create an organization that practiced good relationships,” Hays said.

Several of True North’s practitioners are affiliates, meaning they have their own practices outside of the organization. These individuals will keep operating as usual, and treating patients. Valenza said practitioners who operate at True North will have to find new offices, and three doctors have chosen to retire.

Valenza said caregivers are working with their patients to find new providers if necessary.

True North currently serves about 1,000 patients. Hays said this is much smaller than other practices, but “volume was never our goal.”

Despite the end of clinical services, Hays and Valenza said they believe True North helped many people. Valenza said whether it was someone who was seriously ill, someone being negatively affected by lifestyle choices, or someone who had nowhere else to go, True North impacted a lot of lives.

“The real story is we have helped a tremendous amount of people,” she said.

True North, an alternative health-care provider at 202 U.S. Route 1, will cease operations at the end of the year.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.
  • Heather

    After a visit with True North years ago, they handed me blank HCFA 1500
    form, took my credit card payment, and sent me off with a large binder in which to catalog my health documents. Since then, I’ve managed insurance claims and software systems for a small health practice and became certified as an integrative nutrition health coach. The HCFA form was a complete mystery to me then, as it likely is to most patients.
    Across the US, practitioners are looking for business models for integrative health care, knowing full well that the administration (or lack of administration) of insurance claims can kill a small practice. The ACA, the burdens of new coding (ICD-10), disillusionment with allopathic/symptoms-based “health” care, insurance delay/deny tactics, higher deductibles/premiums — to name a few factors — are fueling a quest for better more efficient practice models.

    The Functional Forum, Tom Blue’s N1 Health, Freedom Practice Coaching, Pedram Shojai’s Well.Org, Jen Faber’s home-based model (among many) are part of the movement toward alternative business structures, ones in which practitioners do not have to align with giant hospitals but can serve patients in small practices.

    The transition to membership and no-insurance models means navigating the landmines of insurance contracts; nobody wants to be in the cross-hairs of Big Blue, Aetna etc or their third-party “management” companies. I received a phone call from Big Blue about a claim for food intolerance testing; it felt like a shake down.

    I’ve been saying for years now, the one critically important thing the ACA should, and could, have mandated from insurance companies was transparent, time-of-service adjudication of insurance claims, a difficult but do-able technical endeavor with no political support. The ACA can go away, but serious insurance-based “health care” problems persist.