Cayuga Family Medicine, based on West Seneca Street in Ithaca, celebrated its 20-year anniversary on May 1, though this wasn’t where the practice expected to be two decades after its opening.
Dr. Jamie Loehr, founder of Cayuga Family Medicine, originally practiced as a family doctor in Rochester and later moved to Ithaca to be with his family, where he worked in urgent care for three years.
“I missed taking care of patients long term and having ongoing relationships with the patients over the years,” Loehr said. “And I also missed delivering babies, and so I started the practice to allow myself to do both of those things.”
In 2000, Loehr opened Cayuga Family Medicine with one goal in mind: to take care of families. And as Loehr explained, the practice has continued to pursue that goal.
“We have been doing that for about 20 years,” he said. “And so, we have several families in our practice that are four-generation families, where we’re taking care of the children, the parents, the grandparents and the great grandparents. And that’s just a lovely feeling of taking care of the entire family.”
The Cayuga Family Medicine model is holistic, Loehr said.
“Part of it is just taking care of the entire person,” he said. “And what that means is that sometimes people get lost in the medical system, and they see a cardiologist for their heart and they see an endocrinologist for their diabetes, but they need someone to take care of the whole person altogether, and that’s what our aim is.”
It didn’t take long for Cayuga Family Medicine to become part of the downtown Ithaca culture, and Loehr and his team were happy to be so centrally located.
“We have a practice that people can walk to, and we have a number of our patients who enjoy that ability,” he said. “In the community, we reach out and participate in community activities. And then, we’re just there for people in the downtown community, though we have patients from surrounding counties as well.”
Loehr said Cayuga Family Medicine started to fill a need he saw in the community.
“We spend lots of time with people, and we provide a service that people are happy with,” he said. “It’s something that fits the niche in the community of people looking for a small friendly practice with doctors who spend time with you.”
With all this history, Loehr and his team were looking forward to celebrating 20 years, but then, COVID-19 dramatically affected operations and patient volume.
“Even though we don’t have much COVID in Tompkins County, the New York state PAUSE means that patients are not leaving their homes except for specific problems,” Loehr said. “And so, a lot of the routine medical care has been put on hold.”
As a result, overall volume has decreased by about 50%, and 80% of the remaining visits are through telemedicine. This practice is in contrast with the methods Loehr typically prefers.
“We did telemedicine before COVID-19, sporadically, and now it’s the majority of our model,” he said.
The people who do come into the office are young children requiring vaccines and checkups and those in a more dangerous condition, such as those with an infection that needs to be drained right away.
As for many area businesses, the decrease in client volume has presented significant financial challenges for Loehr.
“There have been days when we might be seeing five or seven patients, which is very low,” he said. “And we have to try to keep the practice open and running, trying to keep everyone who’s on staff fully employed and not having to lay them off. All those are the hard things that have been stressing me out over the last few weeks.”
Loehr was fortunate to receive financial assistance through the federal Payroll Protection Program through the Small Business Administration.
“We now are able to financially support our staff and not have to lay anybody off,” Loehr said.
For now, Loehr and his team are taking things day by day and are optimistic for what life after COVID-19 will bring.
“My hopes and plans in the future are simply to still be there,” he said. “We want to make sure the practice continues because primary care is actually very valuable.”
To get to that point, Loehr provided some advice to help keep the community healthy.
“The virus is easily spread from person to person, so the social isolation, even though it is very hard on people, is actually very important for the safety of individuals and the safety of the community,” he said. “If we get a huge outbreak of COVID-19 in our community, it is going to put a huge stress on the medical system, and people are going to end up in the hospital. So, if we can keep this spread down to a very minimal amount, it’ll be healthier for the individuals and healthier for the community.”
Despite current challenges, Loehr said he is grateful for being able to practice for so long in a community he loves.
“We’d like to say thank you,” he said. “Thank you to all of our patients over the last 20 years. Thank you to the community for supporting us, and we really appreciate being a practice in Ithaca.”
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