Letter to the Editor: Westerly Should Welcome Wood River Health Expansion

July 26, 2023

The following is a Letter to the Editor of the Westerly Sun. It was submitted by Tricia McNeill Barber on July 26, 2023.

I am writing today as a health care consumer, experienced nurse, nonprofit volunteer, and Westerly resident to express my strong support of an expanded facility for Wood River Health in our town.

As a nurse for many decades at The Westerly Hospital, beginning on the Women’s Health Center and transitioning to the Emergency Department and also most recently in the Geri-Psychiatric Unit, I have seen firsthand the impact of the lack of access to affordable and high-quality primary health care. Westerly is a wonderful town to live in and raise a family, but many of the residents of our town are low-income and face challenges accessing and receiving physical, dental and mental health care. Wood River Health’s mission since 1976 has been to provide access to quality and affordable care. In 2019 Wood River invested in our community by opening its second location at 17 Wells Street. As a member of the board that made that decision and investment, we recognized that with the largest number of health center patients living in Westerly, it was important to provide more local access to the services the health center provides.

In 2022, Wood River Health served 8,614 unique patients — this represents over 23,000 primary care visits and 5,000 dental visits in that one year alone. Four years and one pandemic later, the Westerly location of Wood River Health is now too small to accommodate the demand for its services and providers. More space is needed to deliver these critical supports to our community.

When I transitioned from the Women’s Health Center, to the ED, I was stunned to witness the multitude of patients who utilized the ED for their primary, dental or mental health care, simply because they had difficulty connecting with services. Thankfully, Wood River Health readily accepts a majority of these patients into their network. Whether it was the young mother needing a physician for her children, a lonely elderly gentleman with hypertension and food insecurities, or the young man who frequented the ED with dental pain who could not get a dental appointment, Wood River Health provided these patients with prompt, compassionate care.

In addition to being a former board member, I have also been a patient of the health center for many years. The staff are always respectful, polite and compassionate. The providers work as a team and never make judgments on patients.

Our town, and in particular our elected officials, should not only support Wood River’s expansion in Westerly but work collaboratively with them to make this a reality.

Tricia McNeill Barber