This physician decided
This physician decided

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Community profile: Newport, Rhode Island

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Ray Homoroc Cliffwalk Newport RI
The 3.5-mile Newport Cliff Walk showcases some of Newport’s “cottages”—impressive vacation homes, many of which came about in the 1800s.

When Thomas Fantes, M.D., joined the U.S. Navy, he had no particular thought about an after-service life in the coastal city with one of the nation’s biggest maritime installations. But that’s how it worked out. This is his story.

From Peru to Rhode Island

Fantes was born in Peru, but his family moved to northern New Jersey when he was 4. (At 6’4” and with light red hair, he jokes that he doesn’t look much like a Peruvian.) While studying economics at the then Rutgers College, he decided that medicine would be his life. The promise of government-financed tuition led him to join the Navy. After graduation from New Jersey Medical School, he went on active duty, incorporating internship and residency—and tours of duty in the Middle East and Japan.

After four final years at Naval Station Newport, Fantes and his wife, who was following the same path and is also a physician, was ready for civilian practice. After private practice, followed by ER and community medicine, he decided to settle into a hospital-related environment. “We got out and looked around at a bunch of different places,” he says. “And we thought, ‘You know, (Newport) is pretty nice.’” For them, it still is.

Newport Hospital’s Vanderbilt Wound Center

He’s now the medical director of Newport Hospital’s Vanderbilt Wound Center, as well as of the Newport Health Care Corporation, a physician group affiliated with the hospital. The hospital itself is a member of Lifespan.

The city of Newport is probably best known for its huge luxury mansions, labeled vacation “cottages” by the super-wealthy industrialists, mining magnates and southern planters who built them during the Gilded Age of the late 1800s. But that crowd was preceded by a fledgling U.S Navy complex during the Revolutionary War. During the Civil War, it was briefly home to the U.S. Naval Academy, moved from Annapolis to save it from Confederate hands. In World War II, 80 percent of American torpedoes were manufactured in the area, the largest single industry ever operated in Rhode Island. Today, the site is best known for its Naval War College and officer training school, as well as its large Naval Undersea Warfare Center.

A number of Newport’s magnificent “cottages” and early Colonial homes are now visitor attractions, in addition to other attention-worthy sites. Also on the water, excursion boats cruise past area lighthouses.

Today the words “sea” and “recreation” are almost synonymous, not to mention shipping and commercial fishing. The city is known as the sailing capital of the U.S. and is frequently the site of the America’s Cup race. At the seaside, the annual Newport Jazz Festival, a staple since 1954, may be the biggest lure of all. Everyday outdoor-lovers can be near the sea, too, thanks to the Newport Cliff Walk bordering the shoreline for more than three miles.

In its own way, Newport Hospital is forging the way into health care of the future. “It’s an exciting time,” says spokesperson Elena Falcone-Relvas, especially with the arrival of a new president, Crista Durand. Among other activities, Durand is “dedicated to making positive change and bringing on new doctors.”

For instance, several cardiovascular services are among recently introduced new and expanded techniques and equipment. It was the first hospital in the state to use a leadless implantable cardiac defibrillator, and its specialists now use the S-ICD System developed by Boston Scientific, the first subcutaneous implantable cardiac defibrillator for treatment of patients at risk for sudden cardiac arrest.

The wound care center itself is an example of, as Fantes reports, “the latest, most advanced treatments.”

Newport’s open spaces

In the meantime, Fantes reports that he, his wife and daughter “used to kayak a little, but we’re in the process of selling the boat,” possibly based on two factors. Their daughter, who was 6 when they settled in Newport, is now a college math major, so there’s one boater less in the family. And his physician wife recently became the chief medical officer at a Boston hospital, which, though only a half-hour drive away, is still a time-consuming post.

Work obligations aside, the Fantes adults continue to savor Newport for its surrounding “wonderful open space” where they enjoy walking their dog. Says Fantes: “It’s still a nice little city.”

After crossing Narragansett Bay from Newport, it’s about a 10-mile drive south on mainland Rhode Island to Wakefield, a town where the population is small but the mood is lively. About a stone’s throw south is a protected harbor on the ocean, with many miles of coastline and beaches that attract thousands of summer tourists. “The area is known for its beauty,” says Martha Murphy of South County Hospital Healthcare System. “A lot of people have second homes here and retire here.” That includes professors from the University of Rhode Island in nearby Kingston.

Newport Quaint
Downtown Newport is quintessential New England, with the big city of Boston just 90 minutes away.

Wakefield, with a population of about 8,500, is physically a part of South Kingston, population 30,600. However, it could be called the business beehive. “One of the biggest focuses is Main Street, with a lot of quaint shops and restaurants, plus two theaters,” notes Nick Pappadia, communications coordinator for the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.

Of the hospital, with 100 beds (all in private rooms), Murphy says, “We like to say it provides everything from allergy to urology to everything in between.” Its strongest suit, she adds, is orthopedic surgery, especially joint replacement. “There are patients who choose to come here for surgery from across the state—and Connecticut.” She notes: “Our orthopedic surgeons have performed more MAKOplasty procedures than any other surgeons in the U.S. or the world—to date more than 3,000.”

The hospital has also received important awards and recognitions, including a LeapFrog “A” grade for patient safety, the only Rhode Island institution so cited for three consecutive years. Consumer Reports has given it the highest rating in both patient safety and post-surgery outcomes.

Coastal Medical

Coastal Medical is Rhode Island’s largest physician-owned primary care group practice with 20 locations, including in Newport and Wakefield.

“The quality of life in Rhode Island is amazing,” says Kimberly McHale, director of marketing and communications for Coastal Medical. “The seasons and the ocean, beautiful communities, excellent school systems…. And we’re an hour from Boston if you want something bigger.”

Coastal Medical is a progressive group—the first ACO in the state, and one of the first practices in the nation to have a successful shared savings plan that resulted in bonuses for the whole company.

“When your group is owned by doctors, the processes you put in place are patient-first,” McHale says. “We’re run by physicians that care about everything that’s important to patients, and everything that’s important to physicians.”

That means standard in every office is a pharmacist, a nurse care manager for the most chronic patients, and a team in the corporate office to help manage it all, which allows physicians to concentrate on their practice of medicine.

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Eileen Lockwood

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