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Independent practice still alive and well in NL

NORTH LIBERTY– Twenty-five years ago, it was an opportunity for a young doctor to practice medicine. In the time since, North Liberty Family Health Centre, PC, has grown into one of very few independent offices in the state of Iowa, and is still going strong.
Dr. Cheryl Johnson MD, an Iowa City native, and her husband Kent were looking for a place in the area after the completion of her education at the University of Iowa when an opportunity presented itself. Mercy Iowa City was willing to offer Dr. Johnson guidance in opening a North Liberty clinic, and reconfigured a house (where the North Liberty Police Department is currently located) to do so. “It seemed like a great place to start,” the doctor said.
Dr. Johnson rented the facility from Mercy and participated in a call-sharing arrangement with the Coralville Family Health Centre, where Dr. Johnson had completed a residency.
The original clinic had three exam rooms, later expanded to six after building an addition, and was staffed by Dr. Johnson, Dr. Kay Rankin MD. Dr. Rankin became co-owner in 1990.
At the time, Dr. Johnson said, “As North Liberty grows, we will too.” A new, larger facility was built in 1995 at the corner of Highway 965 and West Cherry Street, where the practice has remained ever since. Lori Ziegenhorn, PA-C, joined the team in 1996. With 10 examination rooms and five doctors on staff, the doctor sees value in the clinic’s size. Three doctors are on site at any given time and rotate on-call duties with other family physicians.
While Dr. Rankin left in 2003, and Ziegenhorn retired in December, four other doctors have joined the practice over the years. Dr. Natalie Hempy MD came on board in October of 2001, Drs. Jami Maxson MD and Lisa Johnson MD (no relation) joined in 2004 and Dr. Nancy Boelter MD entered the picture in January of this year. Four of the five physicans are now co-owners of the practice. All five are board certified in family medicine, but also have their own individual areas of interest. Dr. Hempy’s interest is in pediatrics and women’s health, Dr. Lisa Johnson’s in family-centered healthcare, Dr. Cheryl Johnson is a Fellow with the American Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. Maxson has a certificate in Public Health from the U of I, and Dr. Boelter’s area of interest is in newborn care, pediatrics and women’s health. The clinic treats all ages and both genders with an emphasis on preventative care as well as the treatment of acute and chronic conditions.
“I’ve taken care of people who have been here (in North Liberty) for generations,” Dr. Cheryl Johnson said, calling it a real privilege to be a part of their lives and seeing families interacting at all phases of life.
While many clinics are directly affiliated with hospitals through organizations such as Iowa Health Systems or the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the North Liberty Family Health Centre has proudly remained a truly independent operation, and Dr. Johnson wants to keep it that way.
“Being independent means we are able to make decisions ourselves,” she explained. The doctors are able to determine for themselves things such as how many patients to see each day, how much time to spend with them, and who to hire when positions are open. “It allows us to make our own decisions about how we want to practice medicine,” said Dr. Johnson.
Looking back on 25 years, she said, “People are still the same,” but pointed out she and her associates are seeing more chronic health concerns such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes. Even with changes in technology, it’s the business side where Dr. Johnson sees the biggest changes and challenges. Insurance and billing have become more challenging across the board, she said, and at times, it interferes with patient care, such as having to secure permission from an insurer before ordering a test to be performed, or limitations on what medications can be prescribed.
“The (healthcare) industry overall has become more complicated,” she said.
But, she and her staff of 20 (including the doctors) choose to focus on the positives.
“I love to take care of people and I feel very privileged to practice in this community. We’re honored to be a part of people’s lives for 25 years,” she said.