CONNEAUT – Dr. Tony Ruffa, the family physician hired in 2013 by Ashtabula County Medical Center to staff the new Conneaut Family Health Center, is returning to Conneaut in March to begin a part-time family practice.
Ruffa is in the process of signing a lease for office space in a small building behind the Conneaut Creek Veterinary Clinic in the Conneaut Plaza.
“I’ve have had a lot of people all year contact me and ask if I was coming back and would I consider coming back,” said Ruffa, of Erie, Pa. “I am, because of my affinity for the community and the people that I miss. I know there needs to be good medical care, and you need more physicians to do that.”
Ruffa’s new partner is University Hospitals Health Systems.
“I’m excited to be partnering with UH and working closely with them in the local community,” he said.
Ruffa had his eye on returning to Conneaut ever since he and Ashtabula County Medical Center parted ways. But the separation agreement stipulated that he not return for at least a year.
Last March, after a months-long process of personal and professional vetting by the U.S. government, he began practicing at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Erie.
Now firmly established there, Ruffa says his schedule allows him to return to Conneaut, where Conneaut City Council made him its first, and heretofore only, Honorary Citizen a few years ago.
“I’ve got a real place in my heart for Conneaut,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know the community and the people, and it’s nice to get back to the community not only to work as a physician, but to serve.”
Visiting Conneaut to find a place to set up practice, Ruffa was surprised to walk inside the small UH-owned building that houses one physicians on the west side of Conneaut Plaza. That it is on West Main Street is a bonus, he said.
“I almost fell over,” Ruffa said. “It’s perfect. I walked in, and that building is all ready to go. They have a front desk, three exam rooms, and a break room. It’s ready to roll. I just have to turn on the lights.”
If all goes as planned, Ruffa will see patients several evenings a week, after he finishes working days at the VA Hospital.
“My schedule will be determined in the next few weeks,” he said.
Ruffa hopes to resume his radio program with Dr. Roger Hogle of WGOJ, with whom he has a special relationship.
“My wife had taken over the show for about three or four months after I left,” he said. “I wanted to stay out of it to respect the boundaries of my former employer.”
Ruffa offered little comment about his abrupt departure from Conneaut Family Health Center in Nov., 2015, a little more than 18 months after Ashtabula County Medical Center opened the $1 million facility to give residents greater local access to quality medical care.
In that time, Ruffa built up a practice of about 1,000 patients.
“Ashtabula County Medical Center hired me and introduced me to Conneaut and built a $1 million building and asked me to be the physician. I’m grateful for that. They did me a favor,” he said.
Ruffa said that his leaving was a mutual business decision based on mutual respect between him and his employer, and that both parties benefitted.
“There was nothing, no medical, ethical, professional, social, moral or criminal reason why I left,” he said. “It was a professional issue and a matter between ACMC and Dr. Ruffa. It was done amicably.”
Now he is ready to return to establish a part-time practice of several hundred patients.
“I’m really not out to ‘conquer’ Conneaut. I truly miss Conneaut,” he said. “It’s like a second home. I became enmeshed in the culture, the people and its personality. I was traveling 45 minutes a day to Conneaut, and I loved it. I want to come back and have a part-time practice. My job with the VA offers flexibility. I’m done by 4 o’clock and have an evening ahead of me.”
Ruffa plans no Saturday hours in Conneaut, but patient load could change that.
“It depends,” he said. “If I pick up more patients, I’ll add hours. Maybe it’ll grow into a full-time practice. It’s exciting. A lot of my patients I had formed relationships with, and they were meaningful, so when I left, I felt bad. But if I see patients in Conneaut, with a hospital in Conneaut, the medical dollars stay there. That in itself is a benefit to the community. The need is there.”