A challenge exists in many small towns throughout the nation, and it’s a challenge that can quite literally hit people “where they live and breathe”. The problem: attracting and retaining health care providers who are both qualified and committed to sticking around for a while.
Kiowa County Hospital District has had its share of problems in this area. After enjoying top notch medical care delivered by a small but stable group of providers for a stretch of years, a combination of personal tragedies and family decisions to relocate left KCHD with Dr. Lenderts, who usually worked alternating weekends, as the only full time physician on staff. Dr. Lenderts provided excellent care and even took on the vacated role of Chief of Staff, but, with his home and son 5 hours away, he could work full time only on a temporary basis.
KCHD contracted with Docs Who Care, a group that specializes in providing highly trained locum tenet physicians to health care facilities in need of coverage. According to Char Korrell, KCHD’s interim CEO, Docs Who Care physicians have been exemplary at meeting the needs of both the facility and its patients. But, as she readily admits, it’s been an on-going struggle to recreate the stability in providers that had KCHD growing in both reputation and patients for years.
Now, it looks like KCHD has finally turned a corner, and part of that turn has come about in a most unexpected way.
“We’re very excited to announce that we’re in the process of hiring not just one but two mid-level providers,” states Korrell. “And both of them are a perfect fit for the hospital, the clinic and, most important, the patients we serve.”
The first provider to join KCHD staff is Jessica Hyman, a Family Nurse Practitioner who, along with her husband and three year old daughter, will be relocating here from Woodward, Oklahoma. Hardly new to the field of medicine, Hyman worked for a number of years as a nurse in a hospital setting where she became experienced in a broad cross section of treatment areas. In a move that would advance her knowledge and skills while providing her with more autonomy in her practice, Hyman returned to school to obtain her degree as an Advanced Practice Nurse.
Family Nurse Practitioners, or NPs, as they’re called, are similar to physicians in that they both diagnose, treat and manage acute and chronic diseases, order and interpret labs and diagnostic tests and prescribe medications. Studies have found that NPs do about 80% to 90% of what physicians do and provide health care that is largely equivalent to care provided by physicians.
Many will be interested to know that Hyman is also no stranger to this part of the state as she grew up south of here in Springfield. Far from being reluctant to work in a rural health care setting, Hyman was actually seeking such a position, stating that she wanted to raise her daughter in a small town where, much as she did when she was young, her little girl will enjoy all the benefits of attending a small town school.
In the very near future, Jessica Hyman and family will be moving into the house they recently purchased in Eads, after which she’s scheduled to begin work at KCHD sometime within the first two weeks of December.
Korrell’s second announcement confirms what, to this point, was only rumored to be true: Physician Assistant Dawn Back will be returning to KCHD. “We’re looking forward to signing an agreement with Dawn,” states Korrell, “and are very excited that she’s returning to the team.”
Dawn, who grew up in Ordway and enlisted in the military straight out of high school, received her degree as a Physician Assistant while serving in the United States Air Force. She brings with her a broad, dynamic assortment of health care delivery experiences, knowledge and skills gained while on tour in Iraq, other countries overseas and, ultimately, stateside.
After retiring as a Captain from the Air Force, Dawn spent 10 months as the sole health care provider serving a village of several hundred indigenous Alaskans in a location so remote it could only be accessed by sea plane. At the end of that contract, she returned to the lower 48 where she continued to see patients in unique, rural settings such as the Navajo Reservation in Northern Arizona.
Along with her teenage son, Cody, Dawn decided to move to Eads about five years ago, motivated in no small part by a wish to be near her parents who still live in Ordway. Dale, Dawn’s husband, joined her here after his retirement from the USAF, as well.
Once in Eads, Dawn quickly established herself as a highly competent and skilled provider working alongside colleague, mentor and friend, the late Dr. Waggoner. The clinic flourished during those years as some patients traveled from more than an hour away to receive health care. After Dr. Waggoner passed in 2015, Dawn continued on at the clinic. Then, roughly 18 months ago, she decided to join her husband in New Mexico where the two lived and worked cattle on a 70,000 acre ranch managed by her brother. In addition to working on the ranch, Dawn worked fulltime as a PA at a general medical and surgical facility in nearby Santa Rosa, a position that expanded her skills even more.
Although Dawn was living the ranch life she’d always dreamed of living, a series of conversations with Korrell convinced Dawn to accept an offer of employment and return to Eads, a move she looks forward to making. “I’m extremely happy to be returning to a place I’ve felt the most at home,” she says, “and to all the wonderful people who make it feel that way.” Suffice it to say, those patients who have heard of Dawn’s pending return have described feeling the same way—and more.
Once she’s settled in, Dawn has every intention of continuing to focus on the two loves of her life, outside of her family: horseback riding and caring for patients. She’s slated to return to KCHD sometime in mid-January.
Meanwhile, Korrell is continuing in her attempts to find a permanent, fulltime physician. Having two such competent and enthusiastic mid-level providers in place and seeing patients can only help her in her efforts to finally have KCHD fully staffed once again.