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NEOMED opens new clinic to increase rural health care access in Northeast Ohio

 Dr. John Boltri of NEOMED cares for an infant at NEOMED Health Care in Rootstown. The clinic recently opened to expand health care access to residents of rural Portage County. [Chris Smanto/Chris Smanto / Chris Smanto]
Dr. John Boltri of NEOMED cares for an infant at NEOMED Health Care in Rootstown. The clinic recently opened to expand health care access to residents of rural Portage County.

Accessing health care in rural Northeast Ohio can be a challenge. Due to the lack of providers, residents often find themselves driving long distances to bigger cities – Cleveland, Akron and Canton - for primary care, according to medical experts.

Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) is trying to change that by opening up its student health center, in Rootstown in Portage County, to the general public, said Dr. John Boltri, chair of family and community medicine.

“As a medical university training health professionals for and from Ohio, it makes sense for us to serve our community by providing primary care and mental health care,” Boltri said.

The NEOMED Health Care clinic was initially opened during the pandemic to provide students with COVID-19 testing and treatment, he said. Given the increased need for health care in the community, officials decided to expand the clinic to cover various medical services for NEOMED employees, as well as anyone in the general public, he said.

“There’s a lot of people that live in and around NEOMED that have to travel far distances for care, and a lot of people like just being able to drive up [State Route] 44 to NEOMED and get their health care taken care of here,” Boltri said.

The clinic is located at 4211 St. Rt. 44 in Rootstown and is open on weekdays.

It offers primary care and preventative services such as annual wellness visits, sports physicals, cancer screenings and treatment of both common infections and chronic diseases, he said. Mental health services and telehealth appointments are also available.

Physicians can provide some general women’s health care services, such as Pap smears, but patients can be referred elsewhere for mammograms, he said.

There is a lab and pharmacy in the same building as the clinic, so patients will be able to quickly receive test results and prescriptions, he added.

“It’s really one-stop-shopping that we’ve built into this whole plan,” Boltri said.

He hopes the center can also address the barrier of long wait times at bigger health systems.

“A lot of patients have to wait days or even weeks to see a physician, and we’re here to get folks in either the same day or the very next day,” he said.

About eight staff members work at the clinic, including Boltri and two other physicians.

Currently, caregivers are seeing about 10 to 15 patients per day, he said.

The patients are largely NEOMED employees and residents of Rootstown and nearby Ravenna. If there is an influx of patients in the future, the center will look to hire an additional provider, he said.

In the coming months, the center is expected to expand to provide substance abuse treatment, Boltri said. Overcoming addiction to drugs, particularly opiates, is a growing problem in Portage County as well as across the region, he said.

“A lot of my regular patients come in and say, ‘you know, I was on opiates, and I’m off now, can you treat me for that?’ And in the past, we’ve said, ‘no, we don’t offer that, there’s nobody actually doing that here in Rootstown.’ But now, we’re going to be offering that to our patients, as well as our community and new patients,” he said.

The center does not employ students for primary care services, but some will likely shadow for their classes, Boltri added.

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