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This Doctor Threw His Best Punch, But Tuberculosis Is Still Standing With pulmonary disease as a focus topic in this issue, publisher Pamela Harris suggested that editor Bob Phillips write an historical account of his father’s journey in medicine. By BOB PHILLIPS 

Doctors were still making house calls when my dad was practicing medicine in Memphis. However, when the phone rang at our house the calls were seldom related to healthcare. My dad was Samuel Phillips, MD, and despite having an “MD” after his name in the phone book (remember those?) most of the calls were from people in the entertainment industry.  The callers were looking for the Sam Phillips who owned Sun Records, which had a list of entertainers that included Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and our neighbor at the time, Elvis Presley. The other Sam Phillips evidently had an unlisted number. Because my dad was a doctor, he believed we shouldn’t have one, something that was a constant irritant to my mother. But I thought it was totally cool. I was given the job of answering the phone. It was the best household chore my parents ever gave me. After learning that the callers were looking for the un-

Samuel Phillips

listed Sam, I would explain they had the wrong one. Between conversing with all the wrong numbers and having Elvis down the street, I thought I was witnessing what stardom was really like. Perhaps I was.  But years later I realized I had a real star living right in my own house: my dad, a man who dedicated his life to medicine, and believed, as the Hippocratic Oath states, “into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick.” Samuel Phillips was born in New York and graduated from the Royal College of Physicians, King’s College Medical

School, London, England. I doubt years ago he or anyone else had ever heard of a pulmonologist. He simply said he specialized in pulmonary disease while he spent a good part of five decades trying to eradicate tuberculosis (TB).  Also called “consumption,” I am told at one time tuberculosis was feared more than cancer. After interning at Grasslands Hospital in White Plains, New York, he took a position at South Dakota Tuberculosis Sanitorium in Sanator near the Black Hills National Forest.  It was a huge facility – a city within itself.  And it was remote. The nearest town was Custer (population of 1,987 according to the 2010 census) which is believed to be the oldest town established by European Americans in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. Gold was found there in 1874. I’m pretty sure there was no gold when my parents arrived in 1941, but there was plenty of cold weather. The high temperature there between November and April is about 23. The average annual snowfall is 56 inches. My dad said there was so much snow that tunnels were built to connect the buildings.  But the weather was perfect for treating TB patients. Research indicated that breathing cold air could be excellent therapy.  Each patient’s room had a balcony and every day each occupant was bundled in warm clothing and blankets and placed on their balcony to breathe in the brisk air.

Gee Rides Off Into The Sunset, continued from page 1

the torch while he was still in good physical shape to pursue his passion of competitive cycling. “I have been a competitive cyclist since high school and still in good shape so it was time to really focus on competing before I can’t,” said Gee. “One of my biggest goals is to go back to the world championship race in Italy next year. I competed in it this year and really learned so much so I want to go back and see if I can improve. I also have the distinction of being the only American to have completed the Paris-Bret-Paris, a long-distance cycling event, eight times and I want to add a ninth.” Much like training for competitive cycling, Gee prepared for his retirement well in advance. “I have always been a planner and succession planning in our industry is very important. I have watched hospitals struggle with transition of power so several years ago I developed a succession plan with the board chair,” said Gee. “About a year ago I told them a date I would retire. It did get announced sooner than I would have liked so it has been a bit confusing as to when I was actually going to step down.” As a part of the succession plan and the early announcement of his retirement, the Board had time to evaluate what kind of person they would want to take the reins. “While we did initially consider looking outside of the organization, as we began to determine the type of person and what 4



type of knowledge base we wanted them to have, we realized we may very well have the candidate in-house,” said Gee. “As we interviewed and evaluated our chief financial officer, Lisa Casteel, we saw that she had everything we were looking for. The Board has been very comfortable with their decision and the transition.” Gee has been preparing Casteel for the transition for several years. “The issues facing rural hospitals are not new to Lisa,” he said. “Making ends meet, the financial stresses and the need to be more efficient, she is aware of them all. My best advice to her has been to hang in there, things are cyclical and they will get better. She has a solid background in the basics, and it’s just a matter of keep on keeping on. She will think of goals she wants to achieve and she will get there. I have told her and the Board that I am happy to help in any way I can.” While he initially thought he would only stay five years at Henry County Medical Center (HCMC), after 25, Gee is proud of what he has achieved. “When I came here this hospital was about to be sold. They hired me to come in and try to save it and I saw great potential here. We needed more doctors and to be more strategic in our thinking. It has been such a gratifying process to take a hospital and make it a real asset in this community and this state,” he said. “We have one of the best run facilities

and are one of the best rural hospitals in the state. We have so many things here that lots of small communities would love to have.” During his time at HCMC, Gee has managed to not only double the size of the physical plant but has also seen the medical staff double in size as well. “We have also expanded our behavioral health program to include geriatric psych and adult psych programs,” he said. “We have upgraded our robotic program and were one of the first in Tennessee to use the type of orthopedic robot we have.” Gee says he has seen some challenges over his career. One of the greatest has been dealing with the financial frustrations of the TennCare program. “There has been an apathy in legislators and government to recognize the importance of the healthcare system,” he said. “There are simple things that they could do to support the system. I have just gotten so frustrated with all the politics, and now we are in danger of losing jobs and resources in our rural communities that we need and that should be here. The real frustration is elected officials’ lack of understanding of healthcare and how it works. There seems to be an erosion of what we have built and I am afraid we will have to take several steps back before we figure it out.” As a private citizen, Gee still wants to support healthcare in any way he can. “I

When the U.S. entered World War II, my dad wanted to join the Army. However, he was told his job was considered “essential” and he was exempt from service. So he resigned and took a position at City of Hope Hospital in Duarte, California, which was a treatment center for TB. The TB treatment, called pneumothorax, involved surgery. As best I understand it, a portion of the lower rib was removed and the lung was collapsed and treated. The lung became healthy and the rib grew. The healing process took about one year. Then the procedure was repeated on the other side. My dad was there only until he was able to enter the Army. As a member of the medical corps, he was stationed at several military bases, including one in Como, Mississippi, which was a German prisoner of war facility. The job of caring for German POWs was especially distasteful because my mother lost relatives in the Holocaust.  Dad was soon transferred to Memphis and Kennedy General Hospital. Named for James M. Kennedy, the hospital opened in 1943 and became the largest Army hospital in the U.S.  It was described as a “state-of-the-art medical facility and one of the best equipped hospitals in the nation.” It was located at Park and Getwell, which earlier was named “Shotwell.” During the next three years, 44,000 patients were treated there and an (CONTINUED ON PAGE 5)

want to be a real voice for rural healthcare,” he said. “There is a real need for it and I hope to use the knowledge I have to help be that voice. I have been extensively involved in organizations such as the Tennessee Hospital Association and was even awarded the THA President’s Award in recognition of my years of service. I still plan on being involved with them in some capacity, since I still have a few years left on the state licensure board. I will also be around to help with long-range planning and such at Henry County Medical Center.” After 25 years in the community, he and his wife plan to stay in Paris. Gee says it is also a great place to train for his bike races and it will be nice to train in the daylight. Retirement will mean more time to travel and enjoy his grandchildren in Colorado. He also plans to stay active in the community, the Rotary Club and his church. Gee says it will be hard to go from being a decision maker and leader for 40 years to a private citizen. “I hear the first couple of weeks can be tough but then you get used to it,” he said. “I know I won’t miss the stress of worrying about the hospital each day but I will definitely miss the people. Going up on the floors and being greeted by the staff each day as I made rounds made me always feel so appreciated and I am going to miss that. I do hope to keep the many great friendships that I have developed.” westtnmedicalnews


November 2017 WTMN  
November 2017 WTMN  

West TN Medical News November 2017