Heather Witters helps to fill a niche in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley health care community.
An advanced practice registered nurse and certified nurse midwife, Witters recognized the need for a health care provider exclusive to women and, going on a year ago, she opened Thrive Women’s Health Center in Lewiston.
And then COVID-19 hit, forcing her to close temporarily. She reopened in June and her services have been well received.
“I’m thankful that I opened when I did and I’m thankful that I can be there for the women that aren’t comfortable going to other places,” she said. “It’s grown every month. I’ve been doubling in my patient load. So, it’s really good.”
Craig Clohessy: What made you decide to open a health care center exclusive to women?
Heather Witters: I opened Thrive because I wanted to give the women in the valley a different kind of health care experience. I wanted to be able to focus more on wellness, spend more time with patients. I just wanted to be able to hear my patients and really address kind of chronic, ongoing problems that sometimes we don’t have time to address in a different setting.
CC: Share a little more about what makes your clinic different from other clinics in the valley.
HW: Part of it is that I do spend more time with my patients. I spend about an hour with them at their first visit, which is sort of unheard of at a provider’s office. The other piece of it is it’s a micro practice, so it’s literally just a small office. It’s really nice and cozy and there’s no waiting room, there’s no front desk — it’s just me. The patient gets that entire hour with me.
It’s also a little different because I take more of an integrative or holistic approach. It’s kind of a buzzword but it’s true. I look at things more from lifestyle; I use supplements more. So we do a combination of conventional medicine and ... naturopathic medicine.
CC: You served as a nurse in New York City during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Talk a bit about that experience.
HW: I do mostly wellness at my clinic, so I closed ... mid-March and thought, “What am I going to do now?” It came up that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) was funding disaster nurses to go to New York. So I went as a nurse, as an RN, and I actually worked in an OB (obstetrics) unit in a busy Brooklyn hospital.
It’s hard to find the words to describe how difficult it was, how almost apocalyptic it was just to be in New York at that time because people were scared. No one was on the streets, it was quiet, the hospitals were overflowing, it wasn’t just media hype, it really was like that.
People were sick and dying and alone. That was the hardest part, they couldn’t have their family with them going through that and so they were terrified.
CC: How have you dealt with that yourself since coming back?
HW: That’s a good question. ... This has been consistent with the other nurses I’ve talked to who went there, when they got home it was a little bit, I don’t want to say it’s PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) because it wasn’t ... but it’s close. It takes you a couple months to feel right again.
You’re just trying to process because when you’re in New York working as a nurse, you work shift after shift after shift. There’s no days off. Just 12-hour shifts one after another. You have your head down and you’re working and then you come home and you start kind of absorbing everything that you saw and did there.
So yeah, I remember at two months thinking, “OK, I kind of feel like myself again.”
CC: How did your experience there help you with your practice here?
HW: I don’t know that it helped me specifically with my practice but I also fill in PRN (when necessary) at St. Joe’s (St. Joseph Regional Medical Center) and I know that it helped me there. It just helped me be more accepting of the fact that we don’t know what COVID is or what to do with it. And the administration at all health care facilities is doing the very best they can. The nurses are doing the very best they can. And tomorrow the plan might change.
I think being in New York made me more accepting of we just have to do the best we can. We got to do what we can do with what we know and then we have to accept that tomorrow we might know something different. So that’s probably what it taught me the most.
CC: When you got into nursing, had you decided at that point that you were interested in women’s health? I know you’re also a midwife nurse.
HW: It is. When I first went to nursing school, I said that, but then life happens. I had two children and lived my life and then 18 years later went back to school to get my master’s degree.
One of the other midwives, a CNM (certified nurse-midwife) in the valley, encouraged me to go back to school. I went to the same school as she did and she precepted me and she was a big part of why I became a midwife. So, I knew it but I had to come back to it.
CC: As you noted, when you reopened in June, things picked up quickly.
HW: I think it’s kind of the perfect time for it because people are ready to focus on being well and prevention and just looking at their health versus throwing a medication at a symptom. So it’s a perfect time in that way but also because of COVID, people don’t want to sit in a waiting room with a bunch of sick people.
CC: Anything else you’d like to add?
HW: I would go back to your first question about what my office is and ... if I only see women — and I do only see women, but just so people know, I see women for almost everything.
I’m kind of a primary care provider. Not only do I do the gynecology piece of it but I do weight loss and PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and thyroid and I do hormone replacement therapy, so it’s for a wide range of health care.
Clohessy is managing editor of the Lewiston Tribune. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2251.
Title: Advanced practice registered nurse, certified nurse midwife; owner and provider at Thrive Women’s Health Center.
Family: Partner, Mark; children, Aspen, 19, nursing school in Hawaii, and Quinn, 16, sophomore at Clarkston High School.
Education: Bachelor of Science in nursing, Lewis-Clark State College; master’s in nursing, Frontier Nursing University, Kentucky.
Work history: Registered nurse, labor and delivery, 19 years; owner/provider at Thrive for 11 months (opened Nov. 18, 2019).
Other: “I did a medical mission to Kenya and also went to New York City at the peak of COVID there to work as a nurse.”