Scituate native earns national recognition for community clinics

Scituate native earns national recognition for community clinics

SCITUATE – Scituate native Tony Martinez has been named one of America’s Top Doctors in 2021 by Buffalo Spree Magazine for his community-based efforts to treat liver disease and substance abuse in Buffalo, New York.

Martinez serves as the medical director of hepatology at the Erie County Medical Center, where his team created a grassroots-style clinic, La Bodega, to combat rising cases of hepatitis C. Martinez told The Valley Breeze & Observer an increase in hepatitis C cases was one of the many outcomes from the coronavirus.

Martinez explained the clinic uses co-localization, or a one-stop-shop method, for treating liver issues, hepatitis C and substance abuse. La Bodega, he said, focuses on breaking down barriers for people in high-risk populations, usually in urban areas, who need treatment for hepatitis C.

Martinez is a member of the COVID-19 Task Force at the University of Buffalo, where he is an associate professor. His clinic’s hands-on approach, he said, made switching to COVID-19 testing and vaccination easy.

“We are taking a lot of what we learned with public health, hepatitis C and implementation of large programs to implementing vaccination programs in the community,” he said.

The Task Force, he said, has assisted in administering at least 12,000 vaccinations so far.

“Everywhere I’ve been working, we’ve kind of had the same model. We build into it more and more things,” Martinez said.

Though he’s won Top Doctor before, Martinez said his clinic is now receiving international recognition for the model La Bodega uses.

“I’m not used to talking about myself. I’m used to talking about the work we’re doing in the clinic,” he added.

Martinez graduated from Scituate High School and went on to study biology at Providence College. He received his medical degree from the Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara and completed fellowships at Cornell University.

Getting into medical school, he said, was a surprise for him, so each following success was like the icing on the cake.

“I thought that was it, man. Like someone handed me the golden ticket,” he said.

Martinez has now practiced medicine for 18 years, including nine years fine-tuning his clinic model. He and his crew, he said, work as a “well-oiled machine” embedded in the community. The grassroots style aims to reach underserved communities outside of conventional referrals using more outreach, telemedicine and community-based clinics.

“I think the main concept is going to your patients. It’s really about eliminating barriers, whether it’s transportation, mistrust. We get to the people who need it,” Martinez said.

He said that hepatitis C is curable with a course of medicine, with a 95 percent cure rate. The largest hepatitis C population, he said, is among baby boomers who received a possible blood transfusion in the 1980s and 1990s.

The program typically offers hepatitis C treatment to people who are in rehab and detox by holding clinics at community centers and churches.

“Flexibility is a big part of it. If it’s going to work, you have to be flexible,” he said.

Martinez said his desire to work with underserved communities came from his work with patients. Working with patients in need of care led him to the hepatology field, he said.

“It was all sort of a happy accident,” he said.

He recently received a $1.5 million grant to continue his work at the clinic, he said.