They talked a lot last week about it being a new day for health care in Franklin County.
Certainly, when compared to Wednesday evening, Thursday morning was definitely a new day.
And considering that all the talk took place at the ceremony in front of Dr. David Newton’s new primary care practice adjacent to Weems Memorial Hospital, it was clearly all about health care.
In an emphatic statement that Tallahassee Memorial Hospital was once again fully involving itself, directly and enthusiastically, in Franklin County through primary care doctoring, Newton’s two young sons, Henry wielding the scissors, and Haynes as his little brother back-up, concluded a brief ceremony by snipping the ribbon in front of where dad started seeing patients this week.
It marked the first time the hospital will have a primary care presence in the county since Dr. Nancy Chorba had a thriving TMH-affiliated practice in Eastpoint, and that was at least a decade ago.
The ribbon-cutting event began with remarks by Mark O’Bryant, TMH’s chief executive officer, and Dean Watson MD, a vice-president who handles physician practice matters for the Tallahassee hospital giant.
“You cannot have a high quality of life without having a strong health care presence,” said O’Bryant. “It’s important to keep Weems strong and healthy. Nobody goes to see their hospital; they see their doctor.”
Watson, an internal medicine doc who left behind a clinical practice to work at physician practice development for 26 years, said Newton’s experience and expertise brings to Franklin County an excellent find.
“The future is very bright with David at the helm,” he said.
Newton plans to start out by devoting three days a week in Carrabelle, and two in Apalachicola, as he works to build a busy practice throughout the county. Newton said following the ceremony the doctor has signed a two-year commitment to be part of the 200-doctor-plus Tallahassee Memorial group practice.
“This will be a bridge between us and TMH,” said Weems CEO David Walker. “This is a new day for health care in Franklin County. We’re very excited about this opportunity.
“We feel we’re a TMH family here,” he said. “We thank God for this opportunity.”
Following the ceremony, the practice’s manager Susie Buskirk, who works for Weems, was busy together with TMH staffers preparing electronic medical records in the back office of what once was the health department, and later housed the offices of Dr. Stephen Miniat and others. The offices will be leased from Weems by the TMH group practice.
“Today is a big step,” said County Chairman Ricky Jones, who recalled how during his childhood, the county had two primary care physicians, Dr. Photis Nichols, who was in practice in Apalachicola more than 50 years, and Dr. Chai Sereebutra, an immigrant from Thailand who practiced for most of his career here as well.
Sereebutra passed away at his home in Covington, Louisiana in 2014 at the age of 82, and Nichols died in 2017 at the age of 94 in Jacksonville.
“That’s one of the things we’ve been missing in this county,” Jones said. “It is indeed a great day for health care in Franklin County. This is just one step, and there are more to be taken.”
Watson said key to the success of Newton’s practice will be its ability to keep patients here at home, with the option of more specialized care, as yet unavailable in the county, as an option for those who need it, in Tallahassee.
“The most important asset of Franklin County is the health of our people,” said Commissioner Bert Boldt, a retired physical therapist, who also spoke. Commissioners Jessica Ward and Noah Lockley were also on hand, masked like most everyone in the audience.
Newton spoke briefly, sharing how he and wife Danielle were glad to be in Florida, a state in which they have roots, including a great-grandparent who was a pioneering physician in Daytona Beach many years ago.
Right now the Newtons are staying in their RV, as they look for a house in the county, probably in or around Apalachicola, since he said he would like to be close to the hospital, where he expects to make rounds as needed.
The family comes here from a small town in southwest Montana, south of Bozeman and just north of Yellowstone National Forest, where he worked for the Madison Valley Medical Center in Ennis. Newton said he’s already checked out the Forgotten Coast Fly Company in Apalachicola, since fishing is a passion of his.
A 2013 graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine, in New Orleans, Louisiana, Newton became board-certified by the American Board of Family Medicine in 2016.
“I’m a ‘put your money where your mouth is’ kind of guy,” he told the audience. “I plan to work hard. I’m honored to have that responsibility and I don’t take it lightly.”
Hoping to integrate tightly with TMH’s circle of specialists, Newton said he intends “to provide the full scope of health care that I possibly can.”
This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: TMH brings new young doc to town