Five Questions With: Dr. Jonathan Gates

DR. JONATHAN GATES is the new chief medical officer at Wood River Health. / COURTESY WOOD RIVER HEALTH

Dr. Jonathan Gates is the new chief medical officer at Wood River Health. In this role, he identifies and prioritizes rising-risk patients for care, develops and implements quality workflows, and enhances patients’ experience. He also provides care at Wood River Health’s new Express Care Clinic at its Hope Valley site. He discusses his new role, the importance of preventative care and the future of primary care.

PBN: What are your top priorities as the new chief medical officer of Wood River Health?

GATES: As the new chief medical officer at Wood River Health, I am working with our clinicians, leadership and information technology to make access to care easier for patients. We are seeing a lot of emerging “medical bots” in the health care industry, which – while they may be able to answer simple questions – do not know patients the way our personal primary care teams can. I want to see patients coming to us first, even if it’s just for some telephone advice.

PBN: What will be your main duties? Are you still able to visit patients?

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GATES: I do see patients – as part of our new “Express” visit process, which offers same-day visits when patients are in need. We also use this service to quickly reestablish primary care after an emergency room or hospital visit in the event someone’s primary care provider is out of the office or simply booked too far out. We’re even open on Saturdays!

Main duties I would say are leading our providers through seeking their advice on care, improving processes to bring reliability and high-quality outcomes for patients, and advising our leadership and community partners on the best ways to handle complex medical issues that arise in population health.

Population health is different than the old fee-for-service model for most provider groups in that it changes focus to real-time access to care and requires us to create ways of simplifying everyone’s path through the health care “system.”

PBN: You recently talked about the importance of preventative care when it comes to heart health, and beyond. What are some recommendations you have for patients who might have put their preventative care on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic?

GATES: The missed preventative care and screenings for both medical and dental conditions, and the increases in mental health stresses and conditions that came with the isolation of the pandemic, are some of the most important challenges for patients and providers to overcome in the next year.

We’ve been focusing on vaccination for children – one of the core principles of public health all over the world. For adults, it’s catching up on screenings for cervical cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and skin cancer – all of which can be caught and cured with the right primary care screenings.

Our dental services are expanding to handle the backlog of people who have not had cleanings or other preventative care, and we are expanding our behavioral health offerings through group sessions … as well as planning to hire more mental health counselors and clinicians.

PBN: What do you see as the biggest challenges for Wood River Health and other nonprofit health care organizations in the next year?

GATES: It’s hard to pick just one challenge! Primary care in general is seeing a shift in how services are provided, and how patients expect to access “care.” While virtual care was and remains a crucial means of connecting and engaging with patients, the end of the pandemic emergency threatens to cut off this access to care in many states – R.I. being a notable and laudable exception.

Artificial intelligence is starting to offer medical advice online and while this could ultimately reduce the total cost of care, these solutions usually exclude or poorly help the vulnerable and complex populations our providers see every day.

PBN: Are there any areas you would like to see Wood River Health grow or expand in the future?

GATES: I believe strongly in the Federally Qualified Health Center model, and I am a strong proponent of Rhode Island’s efforts in the accountable care space. I’ve seen more patient-centric efforts than ever before in response to value-based care and it’s wonderful.

We are looking forward to growing to care for more of our community, with on-site radiology in our new building in Hope Valley, and I would like to see us expand to a second Westerly area site. Westerly has significant needs in pediatrics primary care and same-day access; we recently hired an experienced pediatric nurse practitioner to help with this.

We will be expanding our care management programs, and we will no doubt be working with even more community-based organizations than we already do to create a “no wrong door” effect for health care in our communities.

Claudia Chiappa is a PBN staff writer. You may contact her at

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