Premier Family Health & Wellness…Exceptional Care, Extraordinary Results
By Krista Martinelli
Founded in 2004, Premier Family Health and Wellness has grown to encompass every aspect of patient care with the goal of helping their patients “achieve extraordinary levels of health and well-being.” Family-owned and operated by Dr. Vincent Apicella and Dr. Mariaclara Bago, the practice has evolved over the years to include the concept of wellness in every one of their many services. Located in Wellington on 441, just North of Wellington Regional Medical Center, Premier now has five main pillars of care: Primary Care, Urgent Care, the Wellness Center, Diagnostic Care and General Dentistry. On the back side of the facility, there’s also Wellington’s “best kept secret” – the Premier Café.
I met Dr. Apicella and Dr. Bago in the café, and we immediately delved into the subject of wellness. The Premier Café, by the way, was a concept that the doctors, a married couple, brought to life after their ten-year anniversary in Spain. “We wanted to bring the outdoors indoors,” says Dr. Apicella. So, you’ll find indoor trees and greenery throughout this absolute gem of a café. “In Spain, you find that people really ‘stop and smell the roses,’ pausing throughout their day to have a café con leche and really connect with each other,” says Dr. Bago. Read their Premier Café story.
We began with discussing wellness and how it is integral to any individual’s overall care. After just a couple of years of practicing traditional medicine, Dr. Apicella and Dr. Bago could clearly see that they were all-too-often recommending major lifestyle changes to their patients. Recommending things like weight loss, stopping smoking, exercise and other healthy practices became so frequent that it was imperative to “evolve the concept of traditional medicine.” In 2010, they launched their Premier Wellness Center, which gets to the root of each dysfunction through a holistic approach. The Wellness Center has evolved and expanded from a program that was initially called TLC, which included workout machines, nutrition, stress management, supplementation and meditation to a whole, integrated wellness program “where the science of medicine meets the art of wellness.”
Designed for both men and women, Premier Family Wellness offer an array of services, including health screenings, weight loss management, anti-aging services, bioidentical hormone management, pain management, medical marijuana certification, regenerative medicine, hormone balance therapy and more.
Meanwhile, Dr. Apicella focuses on Executive Wellness, helping executive clients and as he describes it, “I’m the Sherlock Holmes of their health.” Finding stress management strategies for executives and preventing the physiological effects of stress is his main focus with the program. “You’re always going to have some level of stress,” he explains. “It’s all about how you manage that stress.”
This year Dr. Apicella and Dr. Bago are featured in a full-length documentary “The Blob Blob Fish: A Journey through Obesity” (produced and directed by film maker Andrew Mossop). The doctors (referred to as “Dr. A and Dr. B”) demonstrate their comprehensive care model, through the journeys of three patients, examining the benefits of drastic lifestyle changes via weight loss. One of the patients, a young man nicknamed the “Blob Fish” by his peers, temporarily accepts this nickname, using comedy to deflect his insecurities and his pain. The film follows the incredible journey of three individuals through their transformative journey to improve their health, self-esteem and overall quality of life.
See the movie trailer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeV-O31rBaM
“We live in an epidemic of disease,” explains Dr. Apicella. “Big pharmacy band aids the symptoms but doesn’t treat the core problem. We wanted to chronicle and show how to get at these root causes.”
“There will always be a place for medicine,” says Dr. Bago, “but let’s also get to the root causes. Let’s empower the patient to take care of their overall health.” While many practices take a “disease-based approach” to problems like diabetes, they wanted to show through the film that these are often not genetic disorders. “You can reverse that,” says Dr. Bago.
I asked the doctors why they think so many young people in the United States are considered obese. “It’s a multi-factorial problem,” says Dr. Apicella. He pointed to a lack of education coming from parents and the school systems, easy access to low quality foods, economic issues, P.E. being removed altogether from some schools and physical activity being replaced by electronics and gaming. Dr. Bago elaborated that “it’s not all about instant gratification.” It’s about planting a seed of a healthy lifestyle and cultivating it. They also mentioned that the average person has no idea how to read a food label. They added that in this country we have lost the art of cooking slow, home meals. “Who eats dinner together anymore?” asks Dr. Bago. Sitting down and taking time to enjoy food and conversation is another (almost) lost art. In addition, the doctors point to the aggressive marketing and advertising of junk food, especially aimed at young people.
Premier Family Health has a very good reputation locally – not just for managing weight loss, but as an overall practice. At the beginning of the outbreak of COVID-19, they partnered with the Village of Wellington to offer free COVID testing in a drive-up format. With approximately 30,000 patients, they are one of the largest health practices in Palm Beach County. “We have a core philosophy of meeting all of your needs in one place,” says Dr. Apicella. “We offer continuity of care with no redundancy. We can see trends as they develop. And every division is a bridge back to the patient’s primary care physician.” Dr. Bago points to the fact that there’s a healthy communication among each individual’s providers. For example, if a patient needs ancillary testing done, they can get this done under one roof, instead of going to a separate diagnostics center.
We discussed what kind of updates they did to protect their patients during the pandemic. “This was unchartered waters for everyone,” says Dr. Apicella. “Everything had to change. We re-evaluated every system and protocol. There were changes from the point of check-in to taking vital signs to how patients were seen to following up after a visit. We launched virtual waiting rooms and telemedicine. At the beginning of COVID, parts of their practice were shut down for 90 days. “And then a hundred team members ‘flipped a switch’ to accommodate for the pandemic.”
The new systems in place were efficient and safe. For example, a vital sign checking machine checks weight, oxygen levels, blood pressure – without any human contact (pictured below). “We cleaned and sanitized our air flow. We installed germicidal UVC blue lights,” says Dr. Bago. These, among many other adjustments, are evergreen systems that patients will appreciate the benefits of, even without a pandemic, according to the doctors.
While I was interviewing Dr. Apicella and Dr. Bago, an interested eavesdropper from the coffee shop came over and asked if they accept new patients. Indeed, Premier Family Health accepts new patients and accepts insurance. By the way, you can visit the Wellness Center and make appointments, even if you don’t see a primary care physician at Premier Family Health. (Just to be clear, Premier Family Health, including primary care/urgent care/diagnostics, takes insurance; Premier Wellness focuses on wellness and lifestyle programs that are generally outside the coverage of health insurance).
“We are a Mom-and-Pop organization with a unique philosophy and with a focus on the well-being of our patients,” says Dr. Bago, summing up their niche in the medical world. “We are a value-based company, driven by a vision and a mission…to create an extraordinary sense of well-being,” says Dr. Apicella. “Our staff wake up with a complete understanding of why they are coming to work every day.”
I asked them what they consider important qualities in a good doctor. “I’m evaluating doctors all the time,” says Dr. Apicella. “I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. As doctors, they must remember that we’re here for education and guidance, not to force their will on the patients. Also, it’s important to practice what you preach.” Dr. Bago continued with, “A good bedside manner, ability to build relationships. Ability to create positive change for the betterment of the patient. I call it the love factor. You meet them where they’re at.”
One of the many programs offered in the Premier Wellness Center is detoxification. Dr. Bago explains, “Detoxification was one of the first programs we developed in our Wellness Center. I believe it to be the basis of all programs especially with weight loss and hormone therapy. Detoxing is all about cleaning the body from the inside out. Think about it as cleaning out the lint filter of your dryer machine or the filter in your AC unit or even the oil in your vehicle. The machines work much better with frequent cleansing and changing. Our bodies fundamentally need, almost require, detoxification on a regular basis. We are constantly exposed to increasing amounts of pollutants in our environments from the air, food, and water. We constantly drive our bodies and our emotions…the proverbial burning the candle from both ends. We need to be able to support our bodies with the ability to detox, cleanse and repair in order to function optimally.” Over the last decade, Premier Wellness has been creating and developing detoxification programs to help individuals with this process.
Another helpful program is Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement. Dr. Bago defines it as a therapy “to help support and balance your body with the hormones you need for optimal wellbeing and functioning.” She explains,” We specifically use and prescribe hormones that are bio-identical to the ones our bodies naturally make. Both as we age and during stressful periods in our lives, we all can have declining or unbalanced hormones that can affect our energy, mood, brain function and libido.” Dr. Apicella adds, “From the male hormone perspective, having optimal levels of hormones as we age is imperative to maintaining, and sometimes restoring, proper physiologic function. Unfortunately, there are many things that impair this process for most men. Mainly, there is a tremendous amount of misinformation circulating the internet and especially in the parking lot of the local gym, where many men get their guidance on HRT. Moreover, most physicians are not properly trained to provide the medical guidance required to guide the male patient through andropause.” The overall benefits of Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy are being able to evaluate a patient’s existing levels and individualize treatment, helping to improve one’s vitality and wellbeing.
What are some basic steps that an individual can take to get into a better wellness practice?
Dr. Apicella says, “The fundamental aspect of obtaining a higher level of wellbeing is taking personal accountability. Choices matter. Choosing to create wellness goals and the finding the consistent patterns of nutrition and exercise are the foundation of any wellness program.”
And Dr. Bago says, “Every individual has a unique story of who and where they are in the spectrum of health. Our history defines us in many ways. I believe that each person first needs a consultation to identify where they are in their wellbeing. The practice of wellness starts with them and their individual needs. Secondly, a thorough evaluation of labs and imaging is needed to determine current health status. Finally, creating a program that works for each person. Every person is bio-individual, so finding a program that a patient can understand, relate to, and comply with are some of the basic steps.”
As I chatted with the doctors, I was wondering about how they met. “We met in med school over a dead body,” they told me, laughing about it. And they’ve been great partners in marriage and business ever since. They have four children – three girls and one boy. Their kids are 12, 14, 16 and 18 years of age, making for a busy household. Mikayla, the oldest daughter, is a co-owner of the Premier Café. She helped with some of the design elements with the cafe.
Dr. Apicella and Dr. Bago moved to Wellington in 2000. They loved it “because it was still small” and they realized they could grow with the community. Also, they found Wellington to be “very friendly” and a great place to raise kids. “It’s a tremendous thing to be part of this community,” says Dr. Apicella.
As for their hobbies, Dr. Apicella enjoys running, weight training, construction/ design projects and traveling. Dr. Bago enjoys traveling too, working out, competing in 5Ks, triathlons and adventure races. They are a very healthy and vibrant couple.
For more information about Premier Family Health & Wellness, visit their websites.
1037 State Road 7
Wellington, FL 33414