Richard Hanwacker, M.D., leaving Sharon for U.S. Army
SHARON — “There are times when factors come together causing changes in our lives.” Sharon primary care physician Richard Hanwacker said that is the explanation for closing his medical office on Aug.31.“Mandated changes in the medical system are making it very difficult for sole practitioners to survive. A new law will bring a serious increase in operating costs making most private solo medical offices unable to remain as viable businesses,” Hanwacker said.When asked for some examples, Hanwacker listed such things as electronic record keeping, which is expensive to set up; a mandate to join an ACO (accountable care organization), which will increase costs; and new diagnosis codes called “ICB10,” which come online in 2013, which will bring a large change to billing systems, again increasing office expenses.Hanwacker added, “My wife and I, now being empty-nesters, having been thinking about living in a warmer climate, and we would both like to get back to city living. I started looking for a new opportunity.”The opportunity Hanwacker found will meet all of his and his wife’s current desires as well as providing what he feels will be an extremely fulfilling chance to give back to his country. He will be working as a primary care family physician for the U.S. Army in a brand new medical delivery facility near Savannah, Ga. As Dr. Hanwacker said, “Now that we have a son in the military and consider ourselves a military family, it will feel good to be part of the 98 percent of our population who need to take care of the 2 percent who serve their country to protect all of us.”As Hanwacker explained, the U.S. Army is building 21 large medical home model facilities across the country. These healthcare facilities are designed to provide the medical care of military families, active duty military and their dependents. The medical home model facility will treat active duty military, and their families, but not retirees.According to Hanwacker, many studies show that increased use of primary care services improves health outcomes. He said, “The thrust of the Army’s medical home model is to make primary care the basis for treating the patients, with the other specialties surrounding it. The Army has seen the need for this and, hopefully, the cost efficiency of this medical delivery model.”Hanwacker said, “We [the U.S.] really need to move toward the European system, where half the medical school graduates go into primary/family care practices, while here only about five to 10 percent do so.” “The medical home model the Army is instituting is also being instituted across the board by many insurance companies. Medical home means a facility that provides as many of the services a patient may need in one physical place. Our goal is to reach out to them in terms of preventive care even for routine visits. Our facility has a pharmacist and psychologist on site. This facility will have seven providers [physicians and nurse practitioners] plus about 20 nurses taking care of the patients. The goals are to enable patients to be able to get everything they need in one place, to eliminate waiting times, provide broader care, preventive services, to make sure all those things are taken care of, in this case for the families of active duty military members,” Hanwacker said.The clinic where he will work is actually in a suburban shopping center about halfway between Savannah and the Army’s Fort Stewart. “The city and the fort are each about a 15 minute drive from the clinic.” He added, “Even medical access is an issue on the base itself. The fort is so large it takes a half hour to drive from the base entrance to the base hospital, which is not convenient for routine medical needs. Also, many of the service families live off base on the local economy.”When asked how his wife of 30 years feels about this move, Hanwacker said, “Mary feels very positive about this move. It ties into a need to take care of military families. We both feel good about doing our part for that.”With Aug. 31 being the last day to see patients, the Hanwackers are planning a cheese and wine party to thank their patients on Sept. 2.The doctor admitted there will be an adjustment moving from being a sole proprietor to working for a big bureaucracy, but feels up to the task saying, “Before medical school I spent 12 years working for Rockwell, a large defense contractor, so I have some idea what it will be like.”Because he is closing, not selling his practice, all of Dr. Hanwacker’s medical records are available to his patients. He is currently scanning the records of those patients who have not picked up or had their records forwarded to another physician. These scanned records will be available to any patient requesting them. To facilitate such requests, Dr. Hanwacker will be maintaining his Sharon post office box at least through 2012. That address is PO Box 517, Sharon CT 06069.