'It's the right thing to do:' WVU physicians care for West Virginians through 21st Century house calls
Madge Justice lives in a house by the side of the road the only road that connects her to the rest of West Virginia.
It’s a nice, solid white house that looks out on a creek, the road and a steep rock face. She’s comfortable in her cushy, blue recliner by the window, but she can’t do some of the things she used to because of the tremors in her hands. Even when she’s sitting calmly reading her Bible, the tremble is always with her slight but still a constant.
The 82-year-old drives her gold Mercury Grand Marquis five miles nearly every month to see the doctors who travel from their West Virginia University base four hours away in Morgantown to the clinic near her home.
It’s about as close as there is to a 21st Century house call.
Before she saw Dr. John Brick, a neurologist, she was told she had Parkinson’s disease. But his careful diagnosis assured her that she didn’t, and he prescribed medication that has controlled her tremors and, her doctors say, may even have prevented a heart attack.
“If I didn’t have that medication, I probably couldn’t do anything for myself,” she said.
Without a doctor who makes “house calls” to her community, she would have to travel an hour or two to the next closest neurologist.
Dr. Brick doesn’t just help her take charge of her health, he also knows her, treats her like a friend and makes her feel comfortable in his care.
On clinic days, John Brick, chair of the Department of Neurology, his twin brother Dr. Jim Brick, rheumatologist and chair of the Department of Medicine and ophthalmologist and WVU Healthcare chief medical officer Dr. Judie Charlton wake before 5 a.m., drive to the Morgantown airport, fly the 150 miles to Charleston and drive for two hours to Gilbert, a town of a few hundred people, not far from the Kentucky state line.
Without these doctors, patients like Justice would do the traveling sometimes hours from their homes because there are no medical specialists in Gilbert.
WVU’s physicians began to travel to Gilbert about five years ago after John and Jim Brick met with James H. “Buck” Harless, a Gilbert resident who has played a pivotal role in West Virginia’s lumber and coal industries.
Harless wanted to see more health care providers in the area, and the Bricks were already coming to town to coordinate with doctors in the region. So they started traveling to Gilbert almost every month, working out of the Larry Joe Harless Community Center, established by Harless.
Not long after that conversation, and with only one newspaper advertisement to announce their arrival, the doctors started their first day at the Gilbert clinic. The initial group of about 10 patients quickly grew to 30-40 every day the doctors visited.
John Brick said that the people who came wearing gold and blue that first time told the doctors about nieces, nephews and grandchildren who were students at WVU in accounting, dentistry or pharmacy.
While the WVU physicians visit one day a month, the benefits last well more than a day. In the month between visits, the WVU doctors work with their patients’ local providers to form an ongoing healthcare community.
“We know many of the pharmacists by their first name and we also get phone calls or letters or information from the mid-levels and the primary care doctors in the community,” John Brick said. “They’re there when we’re not and that is an absolutely essential part of the care process.”
Justice gets an affectionate hug at the clinic from John Brick’s wife, Jeanie, who is a nurse, then has her checkup and drives herself south along the winding road to her home. Because her WVU doctor visits her in her own community, she can still visit the doctor on her own. A trip for life-changing care that could otherwise take much of the day and require someone else to drive her is no farther than a trip to the corner grocery. Dr. Brick has brought the best of WVU Healthcare to her.
“This University is for the people of West Virginia,” Jim Brick said. “This is the West Virginia University for all of West Virginia. We have a role in improving the health and the lives of everybody in this state.
“And that’s why we do it—because it’s the right thing to do.”
To see the story of the Gilbert Clinic’s journey of care, go to: http://youtu.be/BJalIOBoPQ0.
By Diana Mazzella
CONTACT: University Relations/News
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