Editorial: Physicians who made a difference

February 28, 2017 GMT

Reading the article about Dr. Paul Schmitt’s retirement in Saturday’s Daily Record highlighted what an amazing difference physicians can make in a small community.

During the mid-1970s, heath care in the Upper County was in a crisis. The old hospital had closed and the community was struggling to keep physicians in the community. Not only did the community find a doctor willing to stay, it ended up with three physicians committed to practicing medicine who devoted themselves to the Upper County and its residents. It must be noted that the Upper County benefited not just from the physicians, but from their spouses, who also made significant contributions.

The late Dr. John Anderson was the first to arrive, followed by Dr. Schmitt and then Dr. Elizabeth Wise. Schmitt is in the process of retiring; Dr. Wise continues to practice medicine at what is now the Kittitas Valley Healthcare Family Medicine clinic in Cle Elum.

Forty years later much has changed in health care, but what remains the same is that it can be hard to find family medicine physicians willing to set up practice in small and rural towns.

The Upper County trio is noteworthy, but similar stories can be found in Ellensburg. Many of our longtime physicians made commitments to remain in this community and have been tremendous assets to health care and the community as a whole.

The lesson we can take from this and apply to the search for the next generation of physicians is we just need to find people who really want to live here. Plus, it would be great if they wanted to get involved in a lot of other community-enhancing causes and projects as well. Seems simple enough.

Of course, it isn’t simple. There are trends that make it even harder today than in the past. More physicians pursue specialties rather than family practice. We do have more specialists in our physician mix now, but the core of the local health care system remains primary care.

Our health care system resides in a state of uncertainty at the moment. President Donald Trump campaigned on the promise of repealing the Affordable Care Act. At the same time there were promises of maintaining some components of the ACA such as the ability to cover children up to age 26 and ensuring people with pre-existing conditions can obtain coverage. But overall, the replacement plan has not been defined.

How that plays out will eventually impact our local health care system. But regardless of what national system arises, we will need physicians in Kittitas County.

One major sign for optimism is the development of the Eldon S. Floyd College of Medicine at Washington State University. This school is specifically designed to train physicians for the state’s underserved communities.

The inaugural class for the school starts this year so it will take a while to see the benefits in terms of physicians looking to serve small communities, but this school is definitely cause for long-term hope.

The other cause for hope is Kittitas County is a great place to live. While there may be more money and professional acclaim to be found elsewhere, physicians placing an emphasis on quality of life and community will find Kittitas County meets their needs, just as other physicians have over the years. It a place where giving back makes a difference in people’s lives.