Snoqualmie’s newest doctor restores her love of medicine

ROW Health opens on Snoqualmie Ridge, offering accessible health care.

Family care doctors spend only seven minutes interacting with their patients during a typical visit, something Stephenie Tornberg knows all too well.

For 10 hours every workday at a large-hospital system, she was seeing a different patient every 15 minutes, rarely breaking — even for the bathroom. Into the midnight hours, she was catching up on the day’s paperwork.

Working under these limits can crush the spirits of even the most committed doctors, like Tornberg, who had considered leaving medicine entirely during the pandemic. But it was out of that frustration that ROW Health was born.

Tornberg recently opened ROW Health, Snoqualmie’s first physician-owned direct primary care clinic, which, for a low monthly subscription, provides anyone — even the uninsured — with accessible, comprehensive care.

“I kept wanting more out of my daily life as a physician and wanting to provide a different level of care, but I felt very constrained by the environment I was in and kept looking at other options,” she said.

“This has restored my love of medicine,” she said.

Dr. Stephenie Tornberg of ROW Health poses for a photo alongside husband Ben and two daughters, Madison and Teagan. Photo by Conor Wilson/Valley Record

Dr. Stephenie Tornberg of ROW Health poses for a photo alongside husband Ben and two daughters, Madison and Teagan. Photo by Conor Wilson/Valley Record

From childhood, when she made her mom follow ambulances, to high school when she became a volunteer and subsequent certified nursing assistant at Overlake in Bellevue, Tornberg has always been driven to be a doctor. But along the way, things hit a rough patch.

Tornberg’s role as primary care doctor at Swedish Primary Care in Issaquah involved being the primary provider for roughly 1,500 patients at any given time, and she was unable to truly meet all their needs.

“Frankly there are not enough hours in a day to provide care and be available to your patients,” she said. “There’s a massive primary care shortage and, if it is similar to my experience, it’s difficult for a primary care doctor to work in this system and provide the level of care patients deserve.”

There have been reports that as many as one-third of health care workers are considering leaving the field, at a time when primary care can already be inaccessible, with few doctors accepting new patients, alongside long wait times and short visits.

It’s a concern because primary care can treat the majority of health concerns, and it also keeps patients out of the urgent care emergency room. It is a reality Tornberg sees play out daily during monthly shifts at the Overlake Urgent Care.

“Not a day goes by that the patient does not tell me I tried calling my primary care doctor, but I was unable to schedule an appointment,” she said.

For Tornberg, no longer being in that system means she gets back to why she became a doctor in the first place — helping patients. She no longer has to fight with insurance companies for reimbursement, handle an overbearing patient load, or worry if she is meeting performance standard metrics.

She can see patients for an extended period of time, providing unrushed visits, transparent pricing, as well as exceptional access. She can even be reached directly by her patients, no phone trees required.

“It’s just me. It is truly a direct relationship and I want it that way,” she said. “When you take out those barriers you see what’s truly needed — and that is the physician and the patient.”

ROW Health is located at 8100 Bracken Place in Snoqualmie.