Memorial Hospital Cardiology Department Grows to Meet the Needs of Local Patients

August 23, 2023


Carrie Burkett
603-356-5461 ext 2264

Tim Kershner 
603-356-5461 ext 2198 

NORTH CONWAY, NH—Memorial Hospital welcomes Cardiologist Robert Bender, DO, to the team, expanding the cardiology department’s capacity to see new patients. For years, Valley residents had to travel long distances to see a cardiologist.


Five members of the Memoria Hospital Cardiology team stand together in scrubs and white coats outside on a summer day
Memorial Hospital's cardiology team includes (from left, back row) Robert Bender, DO, Darlene Fernandez, CMA, Sarah Petersen, FNP-BC, (from left, front row) Sarah Lacey, FNP-BC, and Michelle Sykes, RN.

In 2020, Memorial Hospital established a cardiology department with one nurse practitioner and rotating cardiologists one to three days a month. Shortly after, the department grew to include two full-time nurse practitioners. Today, Dr. Bender, part of MaineHealth Medical Group, will be onsite at Memorial two days each week, providing the department a significant boost to accommodate more patient visits. Nurse practitioners at Memorial see patients for follow up visits after hospitalization, pre-operation risk assessments, management of anticoagulation medications and ongoing education, among other focuses.


“For those who are newly referred patients, they first see a cardiologist,” says nurse practitioner Sarah Petersen, FNP-BC. “We had a long list of new patient referrals. Having a more constant cardiologist presence will increase access for those patients.”

Sarah Lacey, FNP-BC, is also a nurse practitioner in Memorial’s cardiology practice. “For a patient to be seen by a nurse practitioner at Memorial, they must be seen by a cardiologist first,” she explains. “After a patient has been discharged from Maine Medical Center, the hospital follow up is an important appointment, but a lot of patients don’t realize it can happen right here in our local community with a nurse practitioner.”

Andrea Rathbone, Director of Practice Operations, was deeply involved in the strategic move to add additional cardiologist visits. “Thinking about this Valley’s demographics, we have an older population of retirees here. It is helpful as you age to have specialists right at your fingertips and now, we have more access. For our younger population, as medicine progresses, we can identify conditions earlier, and we are here for them, too. If conditions are diagnosed earlier, there is a real opportunity there.”

Lacey points out that she sees a diverse set of patients with varying needs. Her patients vary in age and lifestyle. “With stress testing, we have people who are super fit who are hiking, biking and skiing. We are helping to keep them healthy so they can continue to do what they love. Our patients are all so different, some with low income living in a rural area means there are lots of barriers to accessing care or healthy food. We really strive to understand their individual needs and be patient-centered.”

Memorial used data to inform the decision to bring on a cardiologist more often. Their records showed 350 patients living within 50 miles of the hospital were seeing cardiologists in Scarborough, Maine.

“The team in Scarborough focuses on higher acuity patients,” explains Dr. Bender. “We can be strategic and see patients locally who don’t meet those criteria. This frees up schedules a bit more in Scarborough and we can build a relationship with our local patients for better continuity of care.”

Providing patients with opportunities to access high-quality, convenient care at the time and place of their choosing is an important part of MaineHealth’s priorities.

Rathbone notes, “Access can mean something different depending on the department. In ambulatory practices (like cardiology), we want to make sure we are seeing patients in a timely manner. We looked at our patients' needs and saw we could do better. Our goal is for patients to only wait 2 – 4 weeks for a new appointment.”

“In rural areas, there is still a significant percentage of patients who are reluctant to travel,” notes Dr. Bender. “Some can’t afford it; some need another person to drive them. It’s better for the patients to have a cardiologist come to them. It makes more sense for one person to drive to see 15 patients per day instead of 15 patients driving to see one person.”

James Love, Director of Specialty Care Practices, emphasizes the value of the cardiology team being able to connect with Memorial’s primary care providers. “It starts with primary care. They have the discussion and identify the risks for cardiovascular disease. Our primary care providers know who Dr. Bender is. They know who Sarah Lacey and Sarah Petersen are. This increases confidence.”

Petersen agrees that the practice is nicely situated to offer continuity of care, “We can easily communicate and collaborate with our patients’ primary care providers who are just down the hall. We provide small, community-based care, but we have close ties with Maine Medical Center cardiologists as we both are part of MaineHealth. For our higher acuity patients, the cardiologists in Scarborough can see my note from yesterday, it is seamless when a higher level of care is needed.”

“We are growing at full speed,” explains Lacey. “We are passionate about helping people live what their definition of health is. A passion for health is inherent in this community. We look at the big picture, the whole patient. We include our patients in the conversation, so they are invested in decisions about their care. I am here to provide information and recommendations and guide patients toward their vision of health for themselves.”

Memorial’s expansion of care with Dr. Bender began in June. Visit to learn more about cardiology and other specialty care at Memorial Hospital.


About Memorial Hospital
Memorial Hospital is a not-for-profit, 25-bed, critical access hospital in North Conway, NH, and is a member of the MaineHealth family. Its hospital services include a 24-hour emergency department, surgery center, clinical laboratory, heart health & wellness programs, imaging services, cardiopulmonary care, family birthing center, oncology, chemotherapy and infusion services. Practices include primary care and family medicine, diabetes care, behavioral health, women's health, podiatry, orthopedics and physical therapy. Memorial Hospital is also home to The Merriman House nursing home, which provides senior care services in a comfortable, home-like setting. For more information, or call 603-356-5461.