By David Jerome
There may be light at the end of the tunnel for patients and staff of the former Fern Creek Medical Center. When the Regenerative Medical Group (RMG) closed the clinic at the end of October it was stripped of all furnishings “not bolted down,” and so the path to reopening was rocky and steep. Nurse Practitioner Natalya Ptashinsky and her husband, John McCully (a web and software developer), have been assembling a team, filing the paperwork, finding funding, and putting in the sweat this winter, and are now in sight of “daylight” to open Strawberry Creek Medical.
Last week, they took an important step by signing an agreement with a new supervising physician, Dr. Scott Picker. In addition to a résumé including qualifications as a surgeon and anesthesiologist, years in urgent care and a stint as an associate professor at UCLA Medical School, Picker is a colonel in the U.S. Army reserves with four overseas deployments. Working In Thousand Oaks, he has owned a second residence on the Hill since 2012.
Ptashinsky has released an update for former patients including this: “We still have many hurdles to jump before the clinic officially opens. They are mostly business obstacles, like getting our new name approved by the medical board before we can start credentialing with the insurance companies, and so on, but our journey feels much lighter now that Dr. Picker has come aboard. [With] a supervising physician, I can start picking up the medical slack where RMG will be stopping, so as of January 31, 2022, you can ask Jim at Idyllwild Pharmacy to call me for your medications.”
Picker confirmed this: “We have signed the agreement, we will do it. There’s heart, there’s grit and dedication and commitment to service. My interest is in serving my community. Idyllwild needs local medical care, continuity of care, as the clinic has provided over many years with a short hiatus.”
Old-timers may recall there has been a clinic in that building since the 1960s. The landlord reportedly bought the building to ensure Idyllwild would always have a clinic. He died recently, but his daughter, the current landlord, shares his desire to keep accessible health care on the Hill.
Another team member, Health and Wellness Coach Jodi Sutherland, who worked for RMG, and was also an important member of Dr. Kenneth Browning’s team, looks forward to the re-opening. Browning sold the clinic to RMG.
“Breathing some new life into the clinic is exciting,” said Sutherland. “I’m looking forward to working with Natalya, John, the new doctor, the staff. I think the community will appreciate what we are going to be bringing to the clinic. That new beginning is going to be awesome.”
Browning, who worked with Ptashinsky during the Fern Creek/RMG transition, also expressed confidence in her and the new plan. “I really think if they can get funding, and set up properly, the community will support them. We certainly need them, a clinic that can take care of most things. If they can also continue the specialties [Natalya] brought with her to the Hill, maybe continuing with the nutritionist, it should be very successful.”
Discussing Sutherland’s role, he added, “Jodi is amazing … if we could get [patients] to understand the importance of nutrition, Jodi could spend the time with them to explain and coach them, they would get back to normal numbers without the use of medication.”
Browning concluded, “I know that Natalya and John are very invested in taking care of the health of people here on the mountain, I just hope people on the mountain will be as invested in them. Sandy and I are here to help; we’ve run practices for 40 years.”
Ptashinsky’s statement ended with a thank you; “I just want to take another moment to thank all of you who have kept us in your prayers and already offered so much of your time, your money, and your services to Strawberry Creek Medical. There will never be a way to fully repay all of your kindnesses, but we look forward with our promise that Strawberry Creek Medical will strive to be among the finest medical facilities in the county and uniquely tailored to our community.”
Volunteers have already stepped up: electrical work, new phones, a promise of free snowplowing, help with painting and carpentry … a story familiar to local readers.
RMG purchased the Fern Creek Medical Center business in August 2020. Dr. Bryn Henderson, DO, JD, FACPE, CIME of Orange County, headed it. DO, JD is a degree program that allows a candidate to complete a doctor of osteopathy and a legal degree simultaneously. FACPE is a degree for executive physicians, those who hire other doctors and manage a business. CIME means he is an independent medical examiner whose opinions are valuable for patients filing insurance claims, for example assessing cases of disability and issues of causation and responsibility.
In 2018, Henderson was one of several defendants in lawsuits brought by the Federal Trade Commission against health care providers for their “labeling, advertising, marketing, distribution, and sale of stem cell therapy to treat, cure, and mitigate various diseases and health conditions.” Henderson’s judgment was the only one that included monetary damages, $3.3 million, which were suspended after RMG paid $525,000 into a fund to compensate patients.
Purchasing the Idyllwild clinic was part of a rapid expansion for RMG. Saved webpages accessed through “the way back machine” show that in September 2020, RMG had only two offices, one in Orange County and one in Kirkland, Washington, but by November it had increased to six locations including Idyllwild; Champions Gate, Florida; and Nashville, Tennessee. The Florida and Idyllwild clinics are no longer in operation.
Henderson did not respond to the Town Crier’s request for comment on this story.
People wishing to financially support the re-opening may visit www.gofundme.com/f/help-us-save-the-medical-clinic.