11/05/12 — The doctors are in: WMH has a new crew of physicians ready to handle patient needs

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The doctors are in: WMH has a new crew of physicians ready to handle patient needs

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 5, 2012 1:46 PM

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As part of recruitment efforts by Wayne Memorial Hospital, several physicians have been hired over the past year. From left are Dr. Alfred Okeke, diabetes and endocrinology specialist, and internal medicine physicians Dr. Deepak Cuddapah, Dr. Catherine Cabungcal and Dr. Randy Swackhammer. Doctors Okeke, Cabungcal and Swackhammer comprise Wayne Health Medical Clinic, while Dr. Cuddapah is part of the practice of Goldsboro Family Physicians.

A year and a half ago, a physician's decision to retire or close up shop would send residents scrambling for a new primary care physician.

This was not unheeded by officials at Wayne Memorial Hospital, who say they have been actively working to recruit doctors and replenish the need in the community.

Specialists and primary care doctors are now scattered throughout the area, with plans to house several of them in a central location, as construction is under way for a new medical office complex on the hospital campus.

Five acres on the east side of the hospital have been cleared for the Wayne Health Professional Building. Construction began over the summer and is expected to be finished by June 2013.

It will be done in phases, and occupied by three practices -- Wayne Health Medical Clinic, WADEC and Wayne Health Psychiatric Services.

In anticipation, for more than a year, the pool of physicians is gradually being replenished, including specialty areas that have been vacant for years.

"There are places to get medical care," Bradshaw said. "I think the community is in good shape right now for primary care, internal medicine, family care. They should be able to get an appointment very quickly."

"I think people who are looking or need to establish a relationship (or medical home) they can find access in a reasonable period of time."

The area's four newest physicians are all accepting new patients.

Internal medicine doctors, Dr. Deepak "Dee" Cuddapah is with Goldsboro Medical Clinic, working with Dr. Thad West at 2400 Wayne Memorial Drive, while Dr. Catherine Cabungcal and Dr. Randy Swackhammer are part of Wayne Health Medical Clinic, currently sharing the building with Goldsboro Family Physicians, 2607 Medical Office Place, along with Dr. Alfred Okeke, diabetes and endocrinology specialist.

It's been nearly seven years since Wayne County has had an endocrinologist.

With the rising numbers of diabetes and obesity across the county, the addition will be especially beneficial for residents.

Dr. Okeke, pronounced oh-kay-kay, is from Nigeria, where he obtained much of his medical training before coming to the U.S. He has previously worked in Michigan, St. Louis and most recently in the Charlotte area.

He said he was drawn to the opportunity to work in a more diverse kind of practice and looks forward to providing a combination of education and treatment.

"Part of what I try to emphasize with the patient is to understand the disease," he said. "I also want to encourage patients."

His area of expertise also deals with thyroid disorders and diseases related to the adrenal glands and osteoporosis.

"We're here to serve the public. We're here to present to the public diabetes and endocrine care, and hopefully keep them in the community without having to travel great distances," he said.

Internal medicine, explained Dr. Swackhammer, can best be described as "adult pediatrics."

"We're a family practice. We don't do kids," he said.

The Pittsburgh native attended Cornell University and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and also did a stint in the U.S. Army, some of that at Fort Bragg, which included deployment with the 82nd Airborne for about 10 months during the first Gulf War.

"I was looking to come back to North Carolina and I was working with a head hunter, looking in different areas," he said of his journey. It was when he met Bradshaw, though, that turned the tide.

"I just immediately decided I wanted to work with him," he said, adding that the location also held an appeal. "I think the community is more friendly -- low-key, less stress, more sun."

His office is open weekdays from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Thursdays until 7 p.m. and takes most insurances, and staff works to make appointments fairly quickly, he added.

"We try to get patients in as new patients, hopefully within 72 hours," he said. " I think we're more understanding, both Dr. Cabungcal and I are experienced, we're not right out of residency.

"I always tell patients, it's sort of like one-stop shopping."

Dr. Cabungcal, a native of the Philippines, moved to the U.S. when she was 12 and grew up in Philadelphia. She was educated at Hahnemann University, now Drexel University. Prior to accepting this job, she spent the last five years at a practice in Kinston.

She actually favored cardiology but along the way realized she wanted a "broader space" to practice and chose internal medicine.

Previously, she has worked in a traditional practice, at a medical center and clinical staffing group, all of which she says have helped her become more well-rounded, especially when it comes to educating and diagnosing patients.

Like her colleague, she was impressed with what Bradshaw had to share about the opportunity for physicians in Goldsboro.

"In him I found somebody that cares about patients and was actually willing to listen to the physicians in creating a program," she said. "I was actually looking (to move to) the beach. I had interviewed in Myrtle Beach and Wilmington.

"After I spoke with (Bradshaw) I thought, I found a place where I could be a physician and team up with a group of business people that know what they're doing and they seem to care."

Educating patients will be a centerpiece in her practice, she said.

"I like the educational push and I know I need to get out in the community," she said. "I have worked mostly before coming here in the hospital setting. I realized there's a lot of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, COPD.

"I realize there's a lot of things we can do to make a difference. We can actually make changes."

Dr. Cuddapah shares a similar philosophy, saying sometimes it's just "simple changes" in lifestyle that can make improvements to a person's health.

Growing up in a family of physicians in India, he also appreciates the hospital's efforts to increase the number of internal medicine doctors.

"We need to obviously have care available here," he said.

In addition to previously working in the Boston area and at a solo practice in Silver Spring, Md., from 1998-2011 -- he and his wife hail from the Washington D.C. area -- he said the solo venture had become increasingly challenging.

He was in pursuit of several options, including Atlanta and Florida, before settling on Goldsboro.

"I liked the opportunity that was presented here and the reason being there's a need," he said. "It was a good fit for me."

He said he also liked the vision the hospital has for the next 15 years, as well as the demographics and industrial pursuits while being a laid-back, rural community.

"Definitely, it's a town that's got a lot to offer," he said.

The physician said his practice mostly sees a lot of geriatric concerns -- heart disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal abnormalities -- and tends to center primarily around the senior population.

While that is understandable, he is concerned that since the economic downturn, he has not seen as many patients between the ages of 30 and 50.

"We can do a lot for people 30 to 50," he said. "It's important to start getting checked."`

Bradshaw said efforts are continuing to recruit additional physicians.

"We're working hard to recruit a vascular surgeon, so anybody that needs vascular work is going to be going out of town (until then)," he said. "And then we just recruited another psychiatrist, Dr. Junius "Skip" Rose. He'll be employed by the hospital but he's going to focus on the in-patients, seven days on, seven days off."

The hospital already had two psychiatrists on staff, who will divide up the rotation and eventually move to the new building.

"The building should be turned over to us June 2013 and then we'll do our own thing in terms of cleaning and starting to move offices. At least that's our plan," said Joe DePalantino, vice president of operations at the hospital.