Business Spotlight: Clinic rolls with changes in health care

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Pediatrics > Facility has doctors on-call 24/7

By Gina Velasquez

There is nothing more frightening to a parent than a sick or injured child. The availability of a pediatrician is crucial in these tense situations. The Children’s Clinic located inside the Los Alamos Medical Center has a doctor on-call 24/7.

The clinic has been a staple in Los Alamos for well over 50 years and has expanded since its beginnings in 1955.

Seven doctors and nurses form the backbone of the clinic that has seen many in the community grow up. With the health care landscape always changing, the business has changed primarily because of technology.

“One of the things you can always count on is change,” Dr. Michael Nichols said, who has been a pediatrician at the clinic since 1978. Nichols also works out of an office in White Rock.

Because of the small communities within the area, doctors at the children’s clinic organize outreach programs. “You meet a lot of kids,” Dr. Ben Neal said. “We go advise school districts through volunteer work.”

The doctors have been known to also set up outreach clinics in rural communities, such as Española, El Rito, Tierra Amarilla, Pojoaque Valley and Chama. “You’ll see 2nd and 3rd generations of families out there,” Neal said. Neal has been working at the clinic since 1987.

All of the doctors and nurses in the Children’s Clinic form a lifelong bond with their patients.

Susan Gisler has been a registered nurse at the Children’s Clinic since 1989. She spent many years in Norway, but recently came back to Los Alamos, a close community she considers home. “I have always felt connected to the community,” Gisler said.

Nichols agrees with Neal about working in a smaller community. Dr. Nichols’ greatest pleasure is interacting with families and kids of all ages, he said.

“I have a great time not only meeting and caring for new families who move to northern New Mexico, but also interacting with the families of his former pediatric patients who are now the parents of a new generation of kids,” Nichols said.

Another way medicine has changed is the fact that most children go to the clinic for outpatient care. “Some kids are very sick and need to be hospitalized, sometimes it is a fight to get treatment for kids,” Nichols said. “It’s harder for people to pay out of pocket expenses.”

Nichols said he would continue at the Children’s Clinic “forever.” Caring for kids is not just a job, it’s a hobby,” he said.

Some medical professionals tend to frown upon government-regulated insurance and HMOs that make health care a business rather than a personal relationship. The need for technology is part of the centralization of care.

The role of electronic records is growing and the Affordable Care Act legislation impact on record keeping is being felt. “It has its pros and cons,” Nichols said. “You just can’t write a quick note on paper and put it into the patient’s file, it is all electronic.”

The Children’s Clinic is making the transition smoothly. The majority of the legislation will not take effect until 2014.
Besides Nichols, Neal and Gisler, three other doctors and one nurse practitioner round out the team. Dr. Shelley Schoonover, Dr. Mary Ellen Slaughter, Dr. William L. Longhurst and Patricia McCulloch, PA-C. Each doctor and nurse have different work schedules, so calling to make an appointment is the best way to see the preferred physician.

The clinic also offers literature on how to care for newborns once they go home to give the parents some additional guidance.

Since it is back to school time, the clinic encourages the physical exams that could be required for registration. To make an appointment, call the Los Alamos Medical Center, suite 128 at 662-4234; or the White Rock Medical Center, suite C at 672-3993.