By Walter Hect

Here in Eatonville, we like our smalltown feel, and we work pretty hard to keep it that way. You won’t see any golden arches or big blue Ws, and the businesses you do find will be locally owned and operated. Except one. And that one has started to stick out.

I got a letter from MultiCare Heal System the other day, informing me that my medical provider is retiring. Rather than an introduction to a newly hired provider, the letter had a brief we’ll-keep-you-posted statement and then a paragraph about how I could establish care at another clinic.

A call to the clinic confirmed: They are full to capacity with no new provider available, and my best option is to find an out-of-town doctor until they can get someone here. Conveniently, they included an 800 number to help me find a new provider. Driving to Graham or even South Hill is an inconvenience, but not having a doctor would be worse, so I gave it a call. I was floored to discover that the nearest provider accepting new patients was not in Graham, South Hill, Puyallup, or even Tacoma. My doctor was to be over 55 minutes away in King County and couldn’t see me for six weeks.

It seems that Eatonville is not an anomaly in their staffing situation. MultiCare has been trying to cut corners by understaffing virtually everywhere in Pierce County. Fortunately, I did some research of my own and discovered there were clinics much closer that could see me as soon as next week. Why hadn’t the provider locator found them? They weren’t MultiCare. And Multicare only refers to Multicare.

That’s good for big business, but not for patients.

Why don’t they simply transfer patients to other providers at the Eatonville clinic? You may recall they already did that to us last year when they lost a provider. You’d have thought they’d be more prepared for this transition.

Now before you assume too much, I want to clarify that the dedication and service of the employees at the Eatonville medical clinic is above reproach. They are courteous, professional, and personal. They embody our smalltown values as much as any business in town. Many of them grew up here. They know your name and always do what’s best for the patient, and that goes from the front desk to the providers and everyone in between. As a clinic, we see them at Relay for Life, Eatonville Family Agency fund-raisers, and virtually every other community event.

But lately it seems those employees are being handicapped by corporate policy. Remember when your doctor used to walk you over to the lab after your appointment? Then one day you were sent to the lobby to take a number. The vague, apologetic explanation smacked of big business. And have you called the office recently? I was surprised not to get one of the Stacys, so I tried to get to know the new voice “at Eatonville Medical Clinic,” only to discover that she wasn’t. Some sort of new answering service. I’d bet my next appointment that wasn’t an in-house decision.

I’m not advocating for the good old days. I understand the era of house calls and stitches on a Saturday night from Dr. Tom is gone. He made those days last longer in Eatonville than likely anywhere else in the nation, and this town can never repay his hard work and generous dedication, but medicine has changed.

A medical clinic with a regional affiliation is our reality, and that in itself is not tragic. What is tragic is when a business of any kind loses its focus on people. When those people are patients over the age of 70 with monthly medical needs and your system asks them to drive two hours round-trip and wait over a month for basic medical care that moves beyond tragic.

We may not have let the big blue W into Eatonville, but we let in the big blue M. And, as sad as I am to be leaving the people at the Eatonville clinic, I can’t say I’ll miss the big business.

Walter Dennis Hect is a former educator and "committed resident of Eatonville.”