WM, county teaming up to fill family physician’s shoes

WM, county teaming up to fill family physician’s shoes

Retirement of longtime local doctor potentially leaves many without a primary care provider

news@theeveningtimes.com

Officials in West Memphis and Crittenden County are scrambling to find a way to keep close to 1,000 medical patients from losing their primary health care after news broke of the impending retirement of a long-time West Memphis doctor.

Dr. Dan Webb of Crittenden Internal Medicine notified patients that he will be retiring from his office practice on June 29. The practice is owned by Tenet Healthcare which is part of St. Francis Hospital in Memphis.

County Judge Woody Wheeless said he hasn’t been able to confirm whether St. Francis will keep the practice open or shutter the doors, which could leave as many as 1,000 patients without a doctor.

West Memphis only has three other internal medicine doctors: Dr. Aaron Mitchell, Dr. Trent Pierce, and Dr. John Wah, and Wheeless said losing the services of Dr. Webb will be a severe loss to the county.

“The last day those patients will be able to be seen is June 29,” Wheeless said. “ Once that’s past, then they are going to have to find another physician. I think it would be extremely hard for those remaining physicians to absorb another 1,000 patients.”

Webb has practiced internal medicine since 1980.

He will continue to see his nursing home patients.

West Memphis Ward 3 City Councilwoman Romana Taylor said she has already reached out to Mayor Bill Johnson, Dr.

Scott Ferguson, and West Memphis Economic Development Director Phillip Sorrell about re-starting the city’s Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee.

Taylor, who was the former Director of Development for Crittenden Regional Hospital and past administrator of Crittenden County Health Department, said the city used to have a physician recruitment committee that was very successful.

“Dr. Ferguson and I and the Mayor have been involved in physician recruitment before,” Taylor said. “We thought it was time to get a plan together and reach out to Baptist and St. Francis and the city medical center to see what their interest is in filling this gap of all the patients that Dr. Webb has. We’ve got a model to do it. In fact, I still have all the paperwork from before.”

Taylor agreed with Wheeless that the loss of Dr.

Webb is a severe blow to the community.

“We have already lost so many internal physicians,” Taylor said. “At one time we had five. We are very fortunate to have Dr.

Pierce, Dr. Wah, and Dr.

Mitchell.”

Taylor said the group will meet informally until they can get a plan in place.

“We’re still trying to refine some things as to what the next step is,” Taylor said.

Wheeless has already reached out to Baptist Memorial Health Care which will be opening a new hospital in Crittenden County at the end of the year to see whether they can help, but agrees with Taylor that they need a long term plan to address recruitment and retention.

“They’re (Baptist) trying to put together a plan,” Wheeless said. “But there is no way they can put anything together to take care of this by June 29. It’s something they are going to have to work on. Ramona has contacted me and has a committee that is wanting to get together so all of us can figure out what to do and be proactive to resolve this issue.”

Brian Welton, CEO of the future Baptist Memorial Hospital-Crittenden, said he has not spoken to Dr.

Webb yet, but that Baptist will look at ways to help supplement the physician market from their medical group.

The new hospital won’t be open to patients until December at the earliest.

“Unfortunately there is nothing that we will be able to do in that short a time frame,” Welton said.

“But for the more immediate term, I will be in discussion with the other physicians in the market and see what role Baptist can play in supporting the local market.

“The primary care market is very important, not just to the hospital, but to the general health and well being of the community.

People who don’t have a primary health care physician tend to delay the care they need and it tends to be a more acute episode than if they had managed it in an outpatient setting.

“So that will be something I will be in discussion with Dr. Webb about as well as other primary care doctors in the area to discuss what we can do to help take care of those patients who are being displaced and what role we can play to help.”

By Mark Randall

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