Group still pushing to improve health care

Monday, June 23, 2003

With all the news about tort reform, Medicare reform and physician malpractice insurance rates, I thought it would be good to hear about a group within the medical community that does so much good.

The Southeast Missouri Medical Center Inc. is such a group.

It started in the late 1960s or early 1970s; Dr. Dwight Johnson isn't exactly sure.

What the Jackson dentist is sure of is that Southeast Missouri Medical Center was born of a group of concerned citizens who perceived a need for a hospital in Jackson.

The hospital obviously never materialized, but what did emerge from that effort was something far more important than any amount of bricks and mortar -- a not-for-profit group that for more than 30 years has been forwarding the cause of improving health care in Jackson.

Originally, the group bought about 60 acres of prime property in west Jackson along Broadridge near West Independence, said Johnson, who is the group's treasurer.

When the hospital project never happened, the group realized the town's two doctors -- Drs. Joe Yaeger and Gene McDonald -- were nearing retirement age. The growing town would need more young doctors.

"We wanted to try to attract young physicians to the area," Johnson said. "We knew we'd need them."

About 1975, the group recruited a young doctor named Ken Asher, who is familiar to many Jackson residents. On that original 60 acres, the group built Jackson Family Clinic. Later, Asher purchased the clinic and is nearing 30 years of service to Jackson.

Since that first project, the group has done much more for health care in Jackson. It helped bring other doctors to town. It built Jackson Manor nursing home on that same Broadridge property.

It lobbied to get 24-hour ambulance service in Jackson, which it finally accomplished last year.

"We pushed for that for years," Johnson said. "Until last year, the numbers just didn't fit."

They also bought Jackson's fire department a used $20,000 rescue ambulance.

There are too many accomplishments to list, and the group isn't finished. A few years back, it bought 19 acres of property across the street from the original Broadridge property near the corner of Independence.

It sold five acres for residential construction and then has prepared lots to be sold primarily health care offices. It will be known as Independence Center and will be another place for Jackson residents to get services ranging from health checkups to braces.

The first construction will begin later this fall for a new orthodontics office for Dr. Terry Spence and Dr. Donald Dennington.

Terry Spence says their new office will be about 3,300 square feet. Construction is expected to begin this fall and open sometime next spring. Until now, Spence and Dennington have been working periodically out of Johnson's office. But there has been a need for a Jackson office for some time.

"We've got a growing number of patients in Jackson," Spence said. "We want to make it more convenient for our Jackson patients and easier on them."

Spence said that Southeast Missouri Medical Center was instrumental in getting them to build there.

"They've been recruiting medical groups over to Jackson for years," Spence said. "For years, they practically gave that land away to get physicians over there."

Johnson is proud of the new project and the work the group has done in the past.

"We've got a 90-bed nursing facility, Dr. Asher has done real well in Jackson," he said. "It's only positive things that come out of this group."

With so much negativity around the health care industry, we certainly could use more stories like this one.

Scott Moyers is the business editor for the Southeast Missourian. Send your comments, business news, information or questions to Biz Buzz, 301 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63702-0699, e-mail smoyers@semissourian.com or call 335-6611, extension 137.

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