Medical association honors NVH physician for leadership on issues

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Dr. Jason Cohen, Chief Medical Officer at North Valley Hospital, was recently awarded The Merit Award from the Montana Medical Association. Cohen has been a hospitalist at North Valley since 2013. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

Inside Dr. Jason Cohen’s office hangs a print depicting a Victorian doctor watching over an ill child covered in blankets, while her parents gaze helplessly in the background.

The painting, The Doctor created in 1891 by Luke Fildes, pays great attention to the doctor’s intense focus on his patient. The print was a gift to Cohen from his grandmother and he keeps it in his office at North Valley Hospital for a specific reason.

“It’s a reminder of the human element of medicine,” he says. “It’s about the ideal of medicine that is a physician at the bedside of their patient with their only focus that patient.”

Cohen has served as the Chief Medical Officer for the hospital since 2016 and has been on staff as a hospitalist at North Valley since 2013.

Cohen was recently honored with The Merit Award from the Montana Medical Association for his leadership in various areas from Medicaid expansion to reducing the use of e-cigarette products, with the aim to increase patient access to healthcare, reduce cost of care and improve the health of the community.

Prior to joining North Valley, Cohen previously worked as a hospitalist at Marcus Daly Hospital in Hamilton before taking on the role of Quality Lead. Before relocating to Montana in 2011, Cohen was a member of the teaching faculty at the University of New Mexico.

As Chief Medical Officer at North Valley, Cohen serves in a role as intermediary between medical staff and hospital leadership, all the while advocating for patient care.

“We have a job as physicians to deliver the best medical care,” he said. “The team approach here is about caring for the patients — that’s everyone including the physicians, the nursing staff, environmental and food services.”

Cohen says he enjoys watching hospital staff being engaged in their job by finding ways to improve delivery of health care and improve outcomes for patients — that could be suggesting different placement of medical equipment to improve efficiency or creating a check list to ensure that patients are getting the correct antibiotics.

“When I do orientation for new physicians I tell them that they have a responsibility to nurture that environment by recommending opportunities for improvement, but also once those are identified participating in the fix,” he said. “We’re all pulling together.”

Cohen says he’s always had an interest in public policy and prior to attending medical school helped to create a campaign finance reform bill in Massachusetts. In his role at North Valley, he’s been able to also work outside the hospital walls organizing fellow physicians to speak about issues such the need for increased access to care.

“As a hospitalist, I regularly see the impact when people don’t have access to health care,” he said. “Often people are working two to three jobs and don’t have insurance and then conditions that could be treatable go undiagnosed. This could be a heart attack or diabetes that causes them to lose a limb or their life — that translates to loss of their dignity or time lost with their family. It’s a pattern I see repeated.”

Cohen says primary care doctors are more likely to see patients who lack access to mental health care resources, but it’s an area that also concerns him with high rates of depression and suicide in Montana.

Physicians can impact change by advocating together because they offer a voice of experience working with patients. Cohen enjoys his role being able to bring medical experience to conversations with state and federal elected officials in the goal of impacting public policy.

“We often make a direct impact on individual lives, but with public policy changes we can impact thousands of people’s lives,” he said.

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