MSSC members also bring care to people outside of Wichita
by E. Jeanne Kroeker, MD —
My husband and I took a road trip last month, heading due north to far northwest Minnesota. We chose this very cold, flat, rural destination only to visit our 23-year-old daughter, who is employed by Textron Inc. and is part of its Leadership Development Program. She moved to Minnesota for a seven-month assignment at the beginning of January, her third move in the past 19 months. She is 300 miles from her nearest friend and 700 miles from family, so she was glad to have some visitors!
The town she is living in, Thief River Falls (TRF), has a population of about 8,700 and is one of the larger towns in the region, due to being the home of two manufacturing facilities (Arctic Cat/Textron and Digi-Key) and a small airport. TRF is located in an area of Minnesota that is sparsely populated, and it is almost 50 miles from Grand Forks, ND, 110 miles from Fargo, ND, and 300 miles from Minneapolis. It is an area where hockey is a way of life, curling is a commonly practiced sport, and fishing is pursued year-round.
Like so many small towns across the country, including here in Kansas, TRF relies on its 25-bed critical access hospital, part of Sanford Health, for acute care of its residents. I read about this hospital a bit while we were visiting and was struck by the services it has available on site and those that are not available.
The hospital cares for both adult and pediatric patients and features three ORs, a four-bed ICU, three birthing suites, and 24/7 emergency room services. There are no nephrologists, cardiologists, endocrinologists or pulmonologists in TRF. There are two orthopedic surgeons, two general surgeons, and two ob-gyns. There are only two internists, two family medicine physicians, and one pediatrician on staff at the hospital. For higher acuity care, patients must travel to Grand Forks or to Fargo, potentially difficult trips in this land of blizzards and ice.
I then looked at the outpatient clinics in town, specifically to see if additional specialties were ever available in the clinic setting. There are a few doctors who travel to TRF from Grand Forks or from Bemidji, the nearest midsize town in northwest Minnesota. But there are many specialties that are not available within a 50- or 100-mile radius.
Many Kansas residents are equally far, or farther, from specialists and secondary or tertiary care hospitals. The Kansas critical-care hospitals and rural clinics are constantly stretched thin and often struggle to meet the care needs of their local residents. However, we have many Medical Society of Sedgwick County members who regularly participate in outreach clinics, bringing their expertise and care to patients, rather than always expecting patients to travel to Wichita for care. Those of you who make these trips are providing an incredibly helpful and generous service. Your workdays are made so much longer on those clinic days, once travel is included.
The logistics of these clinics can be quite challenging at times, accommodating different health system protocols and requirements. These outreach clinics were likely disrupted or certainly made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those of you who travel to clinics outside of Sedgwick County are probably not always adequately appreciated for this above-and-beyond effort, but your work is not unnoticed.
The MSSC applauds you for your generosity of time and your willingness to reach beyond this county to care for the citizens of Kansas, serving as ambassadors for the excellent care MSSC members strive to provide to all patients under our care. Thank you for those efforts.