Celebrating physicians

By Kelley Atherton

The public will have an opportunity tonight to meet three physicians who are relatively new to area, and celebrate an effort to get more doctors to come to Del Norte County.

Dr. Susan Brallier, D.O., is a pediatrician now working in the Sutter Coast Community Clinic. Dr. Stephen Ruda, D.O. and Dr. Christina Seed, D.O., who are both family practitioners, will be working at the United Indian Health Services clinics in Smith River and Klamath.

It has been an up and down struggle getting new physicians to Del Norte. There has been a doctor shortage since what’s referred to as a mass exodus occurred in 2004/2005.

A meet and greet of new physicians is one way to make them feel welcome, said Grant Scholes, Chamber of Commerce president and director of marketing and public relations for Sutter Coast Hospital. It’s also part of a wider effort to not only recruit doctors, but retain them.

Scholes said an obstetrician/

gynecologist will also be starting in January. Dr. John Tynes is currently the only OB/GYN in Del Norte.

The addition of Brallier brings the number of pediatricians in the area up to four.

“We have never had that many in Del Norte County before,” Scholes said.

Brallier moved here in June from Arizona, but she is familiar with the area from having vacationed here while growing up in California.

“I decided it was time to come home,” she said about finding a place to retire.

She was also intrigued by rural medicine and its challenges. Population-wise, she said, four pediatricians would seem like too many, “but needs-wise, the county needs it.”

Ruda and Seed are married and are two family practitioner additions to Smith River and Klamath. They both started work here a year ago September.

Seed described how there is a “huge shortage” in doctors running between both ends of the county.

She grew up in New Hampshire before heading to West Africa for the Peace Corps and then to Maine for medical school, where she met her husband, who grew up in Indiana. Recently, they both completed their residency in the Bay Area.

They were drawn to the area, not only because it’s where the redwoods meet the sea, Seed said.

“I always wanted to do rural medicine in a small town like I grew up in,” she said. “I take walks on the beach every morning with my dog — that’s hard to beat.”

A need for doctors

In late 2004 and early 2005, about 11 doctors suddenly left the area, for “no clear reason,” Scholes said, just different life issues.

“It hit us all at once,” he said. “Some were replaced, but there are many that haven’t been.”

Since, then four physicians have come and gone, leaving the community still “medically underserved,” Scholes said.

Specialists in particular are needed, such as earth, nose and throat and orthopedic surgeons.

“They would be really good for our community, economically and health wise,” Scholes said.

It’s not about money, he said about enticing physicians, but rather it takes a certain person to live in this rural, isolated community and “live the lifestyle they want.”

“They’re able to earn more in the Bay Area, but part of it is the area they want to live in,” Scholes said about finding those physicians who want to practice rural medicine.

A perk for prospective physicians, he added, is the loan repayment program through the Wild Rivers Community Foundation, which helps pay off student loans.

An aspect that is hard for some doctors to grapple with is, Scholes said, is that they are trained in a big hospital with lots of physicians with different specialities.

“Then they come here and they’re it,” he said. “It takes a special person to come here — a really good doctor.”

Forming a partnership

Scholes said an addition to the community’s efforts to bringing in new physicians is hiring Gina Zottola as executive director of the chamber.

Part of her job is to work with the Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee and be a “resource.”

“It’s a good fit,” she said. “Physicians are important part of promoting the county. It rolls into one.”

Zottola said that after only a few months on the job (she was hired in June) she’s been “opening up a dialogue” with doctors. This is to determine how they are doing in the community and any problems they might have.

“I can know about it before a problem arises and the physician says ‘I’m out of here,'” she said.

Reach Kelley Atherton at katherton@triplicate.com

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