Every so often, Dr. Brent Rowe will be walking down the street in Grays Harbor and someone will approach him. “I guess you’re my doctor now,” they’ll say. “In my mind I’m thinking, ‘Who are you?’” he laughs, “but then I realize they must have been patients of Dr. Juris Macs. A lot of people considered him their doctor, even if they had other physicians.”
That’s not surprising. Dr. Juris Macs spent 46 years as a general surgeon at Grays Harbor Community Hospital before finally retiring in December 2015 at the age of 81. He is known for helping to establish Grays Harbor’s first emergency response system in a time when such resources didn’t exist and working on legislation to expand it state-wide. “He clearly was the father of general and trauma surgery here on the Harbor,” says Rowe. “For a while he was the director of trauma for the entire state and he did his president’s year for the College of Surgeons. Doctors who practice in rural areas often don’t.”
Since Macs’ retirement, the surgical staff has continued his practice of collaborative consulting. “The wonderful thing about working with him is that the information highway is a two-way street,” says Rowe. “When he had tough cases or interesting cases, he would talk with me and vice versa. It went on the entire time he was here. We had a very good collaborative relationship, and that’s what I’m going to miss the most.”
These days, Rowe is treating many of Macs’ former patients. Despite his retirement, Macs still drops by the office occasionally, and when he does they’ll discuss particular cases. “Not everything necessarily gets put down on paper or passed on to the next physician,” says Rowe. “We’ll talk about it.”
He believes that Macs chose to retire at exactly the right time – not too early, not too late. “A lot of people thought he would never retire, and some people hoped he wouldn’t. Ultimately he did, and everyone agreed that he had created a lifetime achievement in what he was able to do here.” Personally, he was sad to see Macs go but also glad to see him go out on top after having achieved so much.
As a physician known for his commitment to quality patient care, Macs inevitably knew almost everyone in the Grays Harbor community, with patients sometimes spanning generations. His retirement party, thrown by the hospital, was attended by many of them. “The community response to him was overwhelmingly positive,” says Rowe.
On a practical level, his absence has left a gap due to an issue that big city hospitals don’t have to contend with. The pool of physicians has now gone from four to three, which means less flexibility around scheduling. “The nice thing is he was able to fill in when one of us went on vacation,” says Rowe. “Now we might have to bring in part-time help so we can go to conferences.”
Physicians in Grays Harbor face different challenges than their counterparts in urban areas.
“The big difference between what we do and what they do in Seattle is that we don’t have residents and medical students when we’re on call,” Rowe explains. “When something happens, it’s up to us. We get it done. In larger areas, the attending physicians have a layer of protection from getting calls and having to come in and take care of things.”
Just over the past weekend, he was called in for an emergency endoscopy. “When you’re a community general surgeon, you’re taking calls and you may have to deal with a trauma and remove an appendix,” he says. “That’s where it’s different.”
For now, Grays Harbor Community Hospital is not hiring another physician. “When new surgical specialists are needed, we’ll definitely bring them in,” says Rowe. In the meantime, the Harbor Medical Group in Aberdeen has added an urologist and other doctors. As the community’s medical base continues to strengthen, they’ll hire new practitioners.
At Grays Harbor Community Hospital, the tradition of collaboration continues. Rowe, now the senior partner after 15 years, sees it as a passing of the torch. “A lot of people ask me whether I’m Dr. Macs’ replacement,” he says. “I’m not. He set a standard that we can strive for in terms of the amount of care he had for his patients. He set the mark and it’s up to us to achieve it.”
For more information about Grays Harbor Community Hospital, visit www.ghcares.org.