Mourning the loss of longtime LCCHC caregiver and friend Al Anderson, who passed away last week, and sending condolences to his family, friends and coworkers. Al was a longtime EMT and a big part of the foundation of our valley’s Emergency Medical Services. He also spent several years helping transport patients and community members as part of his work at LCCHC. His kind and caring touch was felt by many in our community and appreciated by all who worked with him. He is very missed.
Originally published on the Lake Chelan Health & Wellness Foundation website.
What does it take to become a surgeon? This is my story.
I was born in the Lake Chelan Community Hospital and grew up enjoying all that Chelan has to offer – swimming, skiing, camping, etc. I loved growing up in Chelan, but by the time I was fifteen I was ready to get out of this small town and see the world.
That summer, I flew with a group of teenagers to a small mountain village in Papua New Guinea. We flew onto a tiny airstrip in the mountains then hiked four hours through the jungle to a remote mountain village where tribesmen were still hunting with bows and arrows. For one month, we built a school and installed systems to catch rain water for drinking. We learned that the closest medical care was over a four-hour hike away, so serious injury or illness was often life-threatening. During that trip, I realized for the first time that there were people all over the world that didn’t have access to medical care, and I wanted to help.
So, I decided to become a doctor. I had no idea what I was getting into, which was probably a good thing! At the age of sixteen, I enthusiastically headed across the country to start college in South Carolina. I gradually discovered that it takes many years of work, countless tests, and lots of money to become a doctor.
But, anything worth doing involves hard work. To help with expenses, I applied for scholarships and got several, including from the Lake Chelan Health & Wellness Foundation, which helped me pay for college and medical school.
After college, medical school was another four years of intense learning. The first two years were mostly classroom learning, followed by two years of clinical rotations and deciding which specialty to pursue. There were more specialties than I had ever imagined.
I enjoyed each rotation, but on my surgery rotation I learned that I loved to operate! As a medical student, I was thrilled the first time I got to operate…even when it was just to amputate a dead toe. In the end, I decided to become a surgeon because I loved it and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Training to be a surgeon is difficult. It takes at least five years of residency working about 80 hours each week, sometimes thirty hours in a row, with only a few days off each month.
But it is fascinating, challenging, and rewarding. I learned to operate on virtually every part of the body: to remove the appendix for appendicitis, take out colon/lung/breast cancers, remove gallbladders and fix blood vessels and hernias.
After five years of surgical residency in Virginia Mason in Seattle, I took my final exams to become a board-certified general surgeon.
After thirteen years of training, I was finally ready for my first job as a surgeon and I was ready to go back overseas – this time to Niger, West Africa.
In 2012, my husband and I traveled to the country of Niger where we lived on the edge of the Sahara Desert for two years. Niger is a country about twice the size of Texas located in western Africa. Over 80% of its land is covered by the Sahara Desert and the heat is often so intense that the rain vaporizes before it hits the ground.
People often ask, why go to another country when there is plenty of work in America?
It is true that we need more surgeons in America, but there are places in the world where people are dying every day from easily treatable diseases – like appendicitis or hernias – because there aren’t enough surgeons.
That doesn’t happen very often in the United States. In fact, two thirds of the world’s population have no access to safe surgery. Where I worked, in sub-Saharan Africa, 93% of people cannot obtain basic surgical care.
In Washington state, there are over 19, 000 physicians for 7 million people. In the country of Niger, there are about 400 physicians for the 19 million inhabitants. Of these, only a handful are surgeons. For comparison, there are more doctors in the city of Wenatchee than the whole country of Niger.
Many people think that the majority of health problems in developing countries are from infectious diseases like HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis. In fact, the majority of money and energy goes into solving those problems. What most people don’t know is that the need for surgery is just as great.
In fact, one third of the deaths in the world in 2010 were from conditions treatable by surgery which is more than from HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.
Being a surgeon in Niger was extremely busy. There were always more people to see and take care of than was possible. In two years, I operated on more patients that I had in all five years of my training in Seattle. To help with the shortage of surgeons, I also trained African surgical residents.
This is a typical patient I would see in clinic. She is an 11-year-old girl who had crampy abdominal pain for two weeks followed by severe pain for a couple of days. She traveled an entire day by taxi to come to our hospital. I had been in Niger long enough to know that she probably had an intestinal perforation caused by typhoid.
Typhoid is an infection that most often comes from drinking contaminated water. It is almost unheard of in the United States but happens frequently in Niger where clean water can be difficult to find.
I was able to take her to the operating room, repair the holes in her intestine, and she went on to recover completely.
Being a surgeon is not boring! If you have a strong desire to help people, a love for learning, and don’t mind a little hard work, medicine can be an amazing profession.
The last 19 years since I left Chelan to become a surgeon have been an amazing adventure that I wouldn’t trade for the world. But, as they say, there is no place like home and I am happy to be back in Chelan working at the hospital and raising my family in one of the best places in the world to live!
On April 25, 2017, hospital district residents voted to approve a bond to help fund construction of a new hospital facility in Chelan. The new building will have private patient rooms, larger birthing rooms, increased outpatient capacity and a bigger emergency room. It will also have space for rehabilitative therapy, laboratory and radiology, as well as an expanded surgery department and a helicopter pad for emergency transfers. The fully ADA accessible hospital will be designed for cost effectiveness.
The new building will be built on hospital-owned property at Chelan Apple Blossom Drive, near Wal-Mart, across from the new Columbia Valley Community Health Clinic construction.
The cost of the construction project is $44.5 million. Voters voted to pay $20 million. The remaining costs will be funded by the hospital, grants and the LCCH Foundation.
The hospital Board of Commissioners and administration worked with outside financial and healthcare consultants to explore facility options. Multiple community meetings were held to gather input in 2016 and 2017. The building project is based on the results of those reports and meetings.
The project remains in the planning and permitting phase, with anticipated ground breaking in 2019 and occupancy in 2020. To access previous updates and a presentation to the LCCHC Board by architects CollinsWoerman, visit the project update page. We will continue to update thepage as new news is available.
Harberd, who has practiced family medicine at the Lake Chelan Clinic (LCC) for 10 years, is an advocate for rural health and an inspiration to medical students, said John McCarthy, who presented the award March 27. McCarthy, Assistant Dean of Rural Programs at the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine, oversees the UW programs that place medical students in rural primary care clinics to learn from established doctors.
Lake Chelan is one the program’s participating clinics, and Harberd plays an active role mentoring medical students. His nomination included a letter from Scott Hippe, one of LCC’s students who ultimately chose to pursue a career in Family Medicine in the northwest, in large part to what he saw Harberd doing for patients in Chelan.
“Dr. Harberd showed me what it is possible to do as a rural physician,” said Hippe, “and I strive to gain the proficiency and scope he attained. Dr. Harberd is committed to educating the next generation of rural physicians. He is a clinical professor in the University of Washington system … he is an excellent teacher, having bestowed on me experience as a medical student that has helped tremendously so far in my residency training.
“But his commitment to the doctors of tomorrow extends beyond formal training; when my basement apartment flooded, he and his family welcomed me into their home to finish out my time in Chelan. This openness to showing students not only what it is like to work in a rural setting, but also to make a life there, makes all the difference.
The memorial award Harberd received is in honor of John Anderson, MD of Cle Elum. Like Dr. Anderson, who stabilized his medical community with a commitment to excellent care for his patients, said McCarthy, Dr. Harberd is the kind of physician who supports the future of health care in his community. “He manifests with the joy of the profession,” he said, “and his ability to mentor others will lead to stabilize medical infrastructure and more rural physicians.”
Harberd, who cares for nearly 2,000 patients in Chelan, says he was both surprised and honored to receive the award. Becoming a family physician in a rural area was his ultimate plan as a medical student, he said. He especially likes the autonomy and diversity of working as a rural family doctor. I like taking care of patients of all ages, he said, all the way from OB to pediatrics to geriatrics. “Chelan is a great community. It allows me to practice medicine the way I want, and it is also a wonderful place for my family.”
Lake Chelan Hospital Board Chair Mary Signorelli introduced interim CEO Steven Patonai at March’s regular board meeting Tuesday, March 20. Patonai, who has more than 25 years of senior healthcare executive experience, will serve as CEO while the Board searches for a permanent replacement for CEO Kevin Abel, who leaves for a new CEO position in Montana April 1.
During March’s meeting, board members heard presentations regarding bond rates, the USDA loan process and project draft budget. State representatives from the USDA visited last week, said Abel, and the application will soon move to the federal level. Bond rates continue to look encouraging, and the board voted to update dates in the bond resolution they voted on last year, as well as approve the current space program for the replacement hospital, which moves the business office and other administrative offices to the Johnson Avenue building to make room for clinic services within the new hospital building.
In response to a request by local physicians, represented by Chief Medical Officer Ty Witt, the hospital board also considered Initiative 1000, the “Washington State Death with Dignity Act.”
“After careful, thoughtful conversations with our medical staff and the board of commissioners, we have decided that whether a physician will participate in the ‘Washington State Death with Dignity Act’ should be the provider’s own choice. As hospital administrators, we do not wish to interfere in the relationship between the provider and the patient,” said Abel.
Lake Chelan Community Hospital & Clinics (LCCHC) will, however, ensure all the laws and safeguards of the “Washington State Death with Dignity Act” are followed if a provider and patient choose to participate.
Lake Chelan Community Hospital & Clinics does not mandate that any provider participate in the “Washington State Death with Dignity Act,” nor encourage any provider to do so. Only those providers and patients who are willing and desire to participate should do so.
“All providers at LCCHC are expected to respond to any patient’s query about life-ending medication with openness and compassion. We believe our providers have an obligation to openly discuss the patient’s concerns, unmet needs, feelings, and desires about the dying process. Providers should seek to learn the meaning behind the patient’s questions and help the patient understand the range of available options, including but not limited to comfort care, hospice care, and pain control. Ultimately, LCCHC’s goal is to help patients make informed decisions about end-of-life care,” said Abel.
While LCCHC allows its providers to participate, it will prohibit patients from taking any life-ending medication at the hospital or clinic. It also will not stock the medication, and patients must fill their prescription elsewhere.
Steve Patonai, who has more than 25 years of senior healthcare executive experience, will start as interim CEO at Lake Chelan Community Hospital & Clinics (LCCHC) Monday, March 19. He replaces LCCHC CEO Kevin Abel, who is leaving this month for a new CEO position with North Valley Hospital in Whitefish, Montana. Patonai will serve as CEO while the LCCHC Board looks for a permanent CEO to replace Abel.
Patonai comes from Houston, TX, where he worked as CEO for two major hospitals. His experience also includes executive experience in a variety of hospitals, from smaller organizations to tertiary medical centers, providing him with a diverse wealth of expertise, including hospital operations, physician recruitment and hospital construction.
“We are very pleased to have Steve on board as our interim,” said Mary Signorelli, LCCHC Board chair. “We look forward to working with him on all of the projects we have begun and feel confident that he will serve our community very well.”
Patonai, who began his medical career as a pharmacist, has a personal interest in local healthcare. He and his wife Sharon own property in the valley and are currently building their retirement home near Rocky Point. He first visited Chelan when working as CEO of Auburn Regional Medical Center outside Seattle more than 15 years ago.
“Lake Chelan Hospital is very well positioned,” he said, “and Kevin Abel has done a great job. With the new hospital building project, it’s an exciting time to be part of local healthcare, and I hope I can have a positive impact.”
Patonai looks forward to working in a smaller hospital where he can interact more closely with staff and patients. “It gives me an opportunity to return to the roots of why I got into healthcare in the first place,” he said, “to help people.”
PO Box 908
503 East Highland Ave.
Chelan, WA 98816