Photo: Regional Clinic staff pose for a photo with two patients, 100-year-old twins Lonzie Gray and Vernia Ray, during the clinic’s open house last year. Pictured, standing, from left: Dr. Krishna Keri, MD, Nephrology; Dr. John Pirani, MD, FACS, Urology; Dr. Chellamuthu, MD, MBA, Nephrology; Dr. Davenport, MD, FACS, Surgery; Justin Ford, DNP, CRNP; Gray; Alberto Echeverri, MD, Surgery; Cody Gray, CRNP; William Mullins, CRNP; Dr. Nicolas Bordas, MD, Infectious Disease; Josh McCamy, CRNP. Pictured, front row, sitting: Vernia Ray. (Courtesy of Teresa Taylor, Regional Clinic)
By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor
A desire to serve as many patients in as many needful North Alabama communities as possible has spurred the founder of Regional Clinic to expand his Gadsden practice to six counties in the past two years.
With offices located in Gadsden, Boaz, Centre, Pell City, Fort Payne and Guntersville, as well as associations with four local hospitals and 11 dialysis units, there is no question that Regional Clinic has earned its name.
“We are the only multi-specialty clinic in the neighboring six counties,” said local nephrologist and Founder of Regional Clinic Dr. Ramesh Chellamuthu. “The reason the practice grew is not because of an increase in need. Gadsden and the Northeast Alabama community always had a need for all these specialties.”
Although his clinic’s growth has exploded in recent years, Dr. Chellamuthu, MD, MBA, has been practicing in Gadsden for almost 10 years.
Known to some as “Dr. C,” he began practicing nephrology in Gadsden in 2013 and established his own practice — what was then called Doctors’ Kidney Care — in 2016. Doctors’ Kidney Care became Regional Clinic in 2022 after the addition of multiple other specialties.
Regional Clinic added several new locations and new physicians to his practice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regional Clinic now boasts in-house expertise in the disciplines of nephrology, general surgery, infectious disease, critical care and gynecology.
“During the pandemic, many businesses were shutting down, but that’s when we were able to grow,” Chellamuthu said. “From 2020 to 2022, I added six physicians to the practice.”
In fact, the first additional physician to join Regional Clinic was Dr. Nicolas Bordas, MD, who specializes in infectious disease.
“The timing could now have been better in that we brought in an infectious disease doctor in 2020, [before] the COVID pandemic,” Chellamuthu said. “He was very vital in coming up with the protocols, and he’s the only [infectious disease specialist] in the neighboring six counties. It was just a coincidence, but [Regional Clinic] always wanted to grow, regardless of a pandemic, so we didn’t let the pandemic hinder our growth.”
Chellamuthu said his staff continued to provide “24/7” coverage for Gadsden Regional Medical Center, Riverview Regional Medical Center, Encompass Health and Rehab and Marshall Medical Center South throughout the pandemic.
The clinic currently employs a team of seven doctors, including Chellamuthu, five nurse practitioners and a number of other staff. In 2022, the 12 practitioners together treated approximately 7,400 unique patients.
In 2021, the clinic had 37,181 total visits, but Chellamuthu estimated that number grew in 2022, during which he added three more physicians — Dr. Lindsay Frederick, MD, Dr. Kenneth Davenport, MD and Dr. Faris Al-Faris, MD, specializing in gynecology, surgery and critical care, respectively.
“We had more than 37,000 visits that year (between) all of the positions,” Chellamuthu said. “That is over 100 a day.”
As to how the clinic maintains such a tight schedule, the answer is found in the question — staff schedule each visit.
“We don’t take walk-ins,” Chellamuthu explained. “It’s all scheduled, so we know that the patient is coming. When the patient comes in, sometimes the entire visit is done in 20 minutes.”
While there is a clear focus on personal care, efficiency is a critical part of the clinic’s operation, and a concept Chellamuthu knows well. In addition to running Regional Clinic, he serves as chief of staff at Gadsden Regional Medical Center.
“Overall, I oversee the functioning of the medical staff, the functioning of all the physicians and the care that is provided to the patients, (to ensure that all patients receive quality care),” he said.
Chellamuthu’s wife, Dr. Gayathri Kandasamy, MD, also practices at Gadsden Regional Medical Center, as a hospitalist in internal medicine.
As the holder of a Master of Business Administration degree, Chellamuthu is uniquely qualified to oversee such administrative, as well as medical, matters.
“When I came to interview with Dr. Chellamuthu, when I walked in the door, I think immediately there was a warmth about him,” said Regional Clinic Marketing Director Teresa Taylor. “I think not only his energy [but] his commitment to the counties and the cities that he works in is why he’s been so successful.”
Chellamuthu’s drive to meet medical needs in his community is as much related to his administrative duties as his doctoral ones.
“We go and open offices where there is the most need,” he said. “But that is actually the basic of any business. You try to meet a demand.”
In doing so, Regional Clinic became the first to offer outpatient nephrology services in Cherokee, DeKalb and Marshall counties.
“We have worked hard to ensure that everyone can access proper healthcare facilities, and when it became apparent that these needs were not being met in several areas, we quickly established satellite clinics,” Chellamuthu said. “This led us to open five additional sites nearby. The driving force behind each venture (from a business perspective) lies in responding toward market demands. In this case, our motivation is addressing any health-related issues faced by local individuals.”
In 2018, the clinic collaborated with the University of Alabama in Birmingham to create a Continuous Renal Replacement Therapy program at Gadsden Regional, making dialysis treatments accessible to critically ill patients.
The Gadsden office also recently opened an infusion center, providing a service that is usually only available in a hospital setting.
Chellamuthu emphasized that Regional Clinic’s union of disparate specialties, while providing many of those specialties for the first time locally, is an incredible strength.
“We are unique in the sense that we are the only (local) practice able to provide a multitude of different services at once,” he said. “With all five specialists located next door to each other, consultations about difficult or intricate issues can be done instantly. If a patient comes with a very complex situation, we can just walk to the next physician’s office and say, ‘This is complex; what do you think it is?’”
Chellamuthu also revealed that with the clinic’s current prosperity, he feels called to provide charity care for local patients. Regional Clinic has now provided over $200,000 in free healthcare to patients.
“In 10 years, we have never sent back a single person because they couldn’t pay,” Chellamuthu said. “Every physician here is committed to making sure everyone gets access to quality care, irrespective of their financial status. And we have provided more than $200,000 in charity care for the last several years.”
Providing nephrology care in particular has long been a passion, and Chellamuthu shared a story that shed light on his deeply personal motivation for the work.
“My grandmother had renal failure, and she needed dialysis,” he said. “In (her home country of) India, dialysis treatments are not available through insurance. She would have survived for several years under dialysis, but it’s too costly for us to afford (out of pocket). So she told my uncle, ‘I do not want our family to go bankrupt to try to save me, so I’m not going to dialysis.’ She passed away after only having one session done of her own accord. She got one dialysis treatment, and she said, ‘Never do dialysis for me, because it will make you and your future generation bankrupt.’”
Chellamuthu does not want to let his patients suffer the same fate.
“That is another reason we don’t send away patients because of insurance,” Chellamuthu said. “I think I see my grandmother through every dialysis patient I treat. Every time I treat someone going through dialysis, it feels like my grandmother is there with me in spirit.”
Chellamuthu’s sense for business and passion for providing specialized care also extends well past his own practice.
“It has always been one of my goals to be able to help other physicians, which is why I pursued a business degree,” he said. “When I was presented with the opportunity to help several physicians establish their own independent clinics, it felt like a dream come true.”
Drs. Allison Vann and Layla Wren, both local primary care physicians, each received assistance from Chellamuthu in beginning their own private practices. He helped Vann, who practices adult family medicine, in the creation of Hometown Primary Care. The clinic opened on February 1, 2022.
“He developed a timeline that we could follow and just an outline of how the business would run,” Vann said. “He worked on a proforma (so) that we could get an idea of the expenses and what we would likely make, and really just helped plan it all out.”
Vann said Chellamuthu connected her with an accountant and other business and healthcare professionals he knew. And according to Wren, primary care physician of the new Bay Street Clinic, making those connections within the community is what Dr. Chellamuthu does best.
“That’s why it’s so important to have such a strong medical community, because we all work together to take care of patients,” Wren said. “We have lots of good networks here in the community, and it really feels like Dr. Chellamuthu is just building those networks stronger and stronger.”
Both doctors said Chellamuthu has been a mentor to them and to other local physicians.
“He has helped other physicians start their practices,” Vann said. “He made his clinic where different specialties could work together. He made that space where people could work how they would want, and I think that was really helpful to keep some of our specialists here without them going and looking for another job somewhere else.”
Wren agreed with that assessment, adding that between its specialists, hospitals, primary care doctors and central location, Gadsden houses an excellent medical community.
“Gadsden is just an hour away from UAB and Children’s Hospital, which is a blessing, but we also have Huntsville Hospital,” she explained. “Being so close to Erlanger and then not a far drive from Emory, we are really in a prime location to help take care of patients in smaller communities and to be able to get them to larger academic centers if we need to. Gadsden as a medical community is really an ideal spot to be helping in a rural and sub-rural area, but also so close to so many amazing resources that I feel really blessed to be here.”
When asked his favorite part of the job, Chellamuthu simply replied:
“I love helping physicians see the patients, so that’s what I do. Whether it’s setting up a private practice or in my practice, I help physicians satisfy the needs of the community. I think that helps the patients; that helps the physicians in staying independent. That’s what I like the most of all.”
“I love helping physicians see the patients, so that’s what I do. Whether it’s done by setting up a private practice or by joining our practice, I help physicians satisfy the needs of the community. Streamlining the intricate healthcare system and breaking down barriers to provide superior care for patients is my ultimate aim.”
Chellamuthu plans to continue his current work for the foreseeable future.
“I don’t have a projected growth for two years, but what I know is that we will do whatever it takes to fulfill the needs in the medical community,” Chellamuthu said. “Regional Clinic will continue to try to recruit physicians and specialties that are in need, not only in Gadsden but also for the neighboring communities. We also strive to leave a legacy of successful private practitioners by helping independent physicians maintain their practices as much as possible.”
Visit regionalclinic.org for more information.