Doctors, staffs see big changes in century

Government rules, insurance claims increase workloads

By Bette Nunn

Governmental guidelines, new technology and the computer age have brought about many changes in our lives. In the field of health care, the changes have been even more dramatic.

Doctors’ offices and hospitals are among those that have experienced major changes. In Martinsville and other areas of Morgan County, many doctors and staff members deal with mounds of paperwork relating to patients’ visits. Their computer files are bulging with information on claims to Medicare, Medicaid and health insurance companies.

A hundred years ago, records were much simpler for doctors. They made many house calls, carried a black bag with a thermometer, stethoscope and medications, and they recorded what was due them in a little black book. Whether they would ever collect on a bill was a question mark, but sometimes they accepted a chicken or fresh eggs from a hen house, a pig, produce from a garden, canned vegetables or fruits from a cellar or a mere “Thank You� with a promise to pay when possible.

There was no hospital here until 1924, when Morgan County got its first facility at the corner of Columbus and Main streets. A few years later, the Great Depression of the 1930s was upon the nation, and many people couldn’t afford to pay a hospital bill. They couldn’t even always buy food. If anyone came out on the short end of a doctor’s visit, it was the doctor.

At the same time, most children were born at home with the help of a doctor, midwife, neighbor or family member. The county hospital began to see more births and surgeries during the 1940s and 1950s. In 1958, the hospital staff moved to the present location at 2209 John R. Wooden Drive. The former hospital became the county home for disabled, sick and elderly people who were financially unable to care for themselves. The county Administration Building is on that site today.

In 1971, an Emergency Room and Intensive Care Unit were added. In recent years, Morgan County Memorial Hospital’s name was changed to Morgan Hospital and Medical Center. It has expanded to include the 2200 Building on John R. Wooden Drive and the Physicians Health Center, which includes Morgan Health Services and family practice doctors at 1949 Hospital Drive. In 2004, the hospital’s Regional Cancer Center opened at 2209 John R. Wooden Drive.

Tom Laux, MHMC president and CEO, said that there are about 150 doctors who have staff privileges. From 35 to 40 are at the hospital at any given time.

Morgan Hospital continues to recruit doctors, update technology and improve facilities, Laux said.

There are also doctors in the Mooresville area, and others are spread across Morgan County. There is only one other hospital in the county besides MHMC; St. Francis Hospital at 1201 Hadley Road in Mooresville.

Early doctors

In the early 1900s, family doctors made house calls from daylight to dark to take care of Morgan County residents. One of them was Dr. Leon Gray. He opened an office in Martinsville in 1926 at the National Sanitarium, which was at the corner of Morgan and Mulberry streets. In about 1932, he moved to 171 E. Washington St.

He was a doctor ahead of his time. He realized that when a local doctor was ailing or planning to move, a new doctor should be brought in to replace him. He spent a lot of time recruiting doctors and provided space for some of them to open an office.

One who is in that category is Dr. Stephen Hardin, who came to Martinsville in 1974 and now works for Morgan Health Services. Gray was also a surgeon and delivered babies. His son, retired dentist Gordon Gray, said, “He didn’t do brain surgery or anything like that, but performed things like appendectomies and tonsillectomies.�

Gordon Gray remembered his dad bringing in other doctors, too. He also talked about making house calls with his dad when he was young and said, “He once took out a boy’s tonsils on a kitchen table.�

Hardin, Jones note changes

Hardin believes that he and Dr. William Jones are the longest actively practicing family physicians in the Martinsville community. They share half of Morgan Health Services inside the Physicians Health Center, which is attached to the north end of the hospital. This allows doctors who work there to check on their hospital patients after a walk down a hallway.

Following Gray’s retirement, the two doctors took up quarters on South Ohio Street and worked together until they moved to their present location. Jones came to Martinsville in July 1970 from the U.S. Army. He opened an office on East Columbus Street.

He said that when he first arrived, he delivered babies and set fractures, chores that are now mostly done by specialists. He said specialization has made a big difference, since after specialists became widely available, he did more referrals and less work. He and Hardin have worked together for 28 years. He said that working for Morgan Health Services means that he is an employee and not his own boss. But it also means he doesn’t have to worry about billing and computer records. He said his main responsibility is to the patients. Jones’ nurse is Carla Martin.

Although he liked being on his own, he said, “This day and age, with all the government regulations and requirements, it’s the only way to go for family practice doctors.�

With a chuckle, he said, “One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed is that Dr. Hardin is a lot grayer.�

Hardin said that one reason he came to Martinsville was that his father, Wilbur Hardin, was the coach who restarted Martinsville High School football after it had been stopped for many years because of a player being injured. He said his parents thought Martinsville was one of the nicest places they had ever called home.

One major change over the years has been additions and improvements to Morgan Hospital. He particularly pointed to the opening of the Critical Care Unit. On the first day, the staff there had to shock a patient’s heart after she had suffered a heart attack. The unit saved her life, and she lived for about 25 more years.

Another big change in the business is that patients used to pay their bills on their own. Then they went to insurance payments, and now it’s through computer insurance programs.

He sees no difference between working for Morgan Health Services or for himself, as far as patient care is concerned, and he thinks the most important thing is to take care of his patients. Gloria Kenworthy is Hardin’s nurse.

About Morgan Health Services

The paper, computer and public relations work at the doctors’ offices in Morgan Health Services, at 1949 Hospital Drive, Martinsville, continues to grow. Future plans are for the doctors to make computer entries about their patients for their office health records, according to Karon Perkins. She is vice president of physician practice operations at Morgan Health Services, which opened in 1993 in the Physicians Health Center. She said the business is owned by Morgan Hospital and that the doctors contract with the hospital for their pay.

Perkins is in charge of managing the health services building and is assisted by Sharon Britton, operations manager, and Jeanne Greeson, supervisor of administrative support. Perkins believes that keeping up with new technology is one of the biggest improvements in the health-care business, but she also said it adds to the cost of care.

There are about 11 doctors and a nurse practitioner working at Morgan Health Services and a staff of about 80, counting doctors and nurses. Employees do all the billing for the doctors, who provide care to patients and attend committee and staff meetings.

Perkins said, “We want patients to come here and be happy. We really want to take care of them.�

Other offices in the Physicians Health Center include the hospital finance department and education services and transcription.
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