Currently, Mitch Bartley, D.O., and nurse practitioner Karen Meenan, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, work at Laurie Clinic full time. Dr. William Fish is providing some additional part-time coverage while Lake Regional works to recruit more providers.

With the announcement of the upcoming closure of the independent Westlake Medical Center in Laurie, Laurie Clinic, part of Lake Regional Health System, is working to fill the void in local care.

More health care providers are being actively recruited to this facility of Lake Regional Health System.

Currently, Mitch Bartley, D.O., and nurse practitioner Karen Meenan, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, work at Laurie Clinic full time. Dr. William Fish is providing some additional part-time coverage while Lake Regional works to recruit more providers.

A second nurse practitioner has signed on to join the clinic Sept. 1, and Lake Regional continues to recruit a second full-time doctor and a third nurse practitioner.

The clinic’s other full-time physician had to step back from work recently due to health issues.With this number of doctors, the clinic is scheduling patients several weeks out with its current patient load.

However, Lake Regional officials are encouraging patients with chronic conditions at Westlake Medical Center to get started with Laurie Clinic by seeing the nurse practitioner to make sure all of ongoing medications get refilled as a stop gap measure until the patient can get in to see the doctor.

New patients can also be worked in sooner by starting off at Lake Regional’s clinic in Camdenton which has more physicians.

The long-term goal though is to have five primary care providers on staff at the clinic -- two full-time doctors and three nurse practitioners, according to LRHS Senior Vice President of Operations Kevin McRoberts. He believes there is plenty of need within the Westside area for a fully-staffed facility.

“Laurie is an extremely important community to us,” said McRoberts.

Local clinics help individuals cut down on time off work for appointments and ease transportation issues some may have in accessing care.

In addition to the personal health of residents, the relationship between a community’s economic health and health care providers is symbiotic, explained McRoberts.

Use of local care providers also has a trickle down economic effect, McRoberts said, by keeping money spent on things like gas and food in the Lake area instead of being spent outside the region.

Having access to good health care is a major factor in businesses and individuals considering a move to the region. Health care is a key component of community growth and economics and a strong community economy is good for the health care system serving the community.

In recent years, Lake Regional has invested in a cardiac rehabilitation facility and a pharmacy within the same center as Laurie Clinic at 156 Missouri Blvd.

Weekend and holiday “Express Care” (formerly Urgen Care) is also offered at Laurie Clinic May-November for walk-in patients with acute, rather than chronic, conditions like minor burns, sprains, ear infections or sore throats.

The health system also has plans for future expansion at its Laurie location.

But the physician shortage is real for hospital systems as well as independent providers, McRoberts said, and it can be a challenge recruiting physicians to come to a rural area like Laurie and the Lake of the Ozarks in general.

At the time of McRoberts’ interview with the Lake Sun in mid-June, he said there were 1,030 openings for physicians across the state, and competition to recruit the limited amount of doctors is stiff.

“There are a lot of dynamics at play in recruitment,” said McRoberts.

While many locals and visitors consider the Lake of the Ozarks a great place to live or visit, attracting doctors can be more complicated.

With generational changes, medical students are considering more lifestyle factors, like where their spouse might work, schools for their kids, being near activities and things to do that they’re interested in, according to McRoberts. More and more have families while in school instead of waiting until they finish and start practicing, he said, and many are more family oriented in general.

As next-generation doctors go through medical school, however, the cost of education is also an increasingly heavy burden so these students are looking for help upfront. Primary care is one of the least popular fields for a physician to go into because it offers a lower return on investment, though primary care is an important part of health care for the public.

Planning is essential to tackle these issues, and Lake Regional works years ahead to bring doctors to the region.

“We’re constantly working ahead,” said LRHS Vice President of Physician Practices Michael Burcham.

With the cost of education, recruitment packages can include helping medical students upfront with the costs in return for a commitment to work for Lake Regional for a certain number of years -- rather than student loan help after the fact.

According to Burcham, they are attempting to recruit a new doctor to Laurie Clinic in 2018, but the prospect has yet to make a final decision.

“It’s important to have the right fit so they want to stay,” said Burcham. Retention and stability are as vital as the initial recruit.

The health system also utilizes nurse practitioners at its clinics as do many other clinics. With master degrees, these nurses offer more affordable care, helping fill the gap in access to care but operating under the supervision of a doctor. They are sometimes called “physician extenders.”

Burcham challenged Laurie and Lake area residents to help continue and improve access to great health care locally.

If you know a doctor or soon-to-be doctor, let Lake Regional know who they are and let them try to recruit them to come live and work at Lake of the Ozarks.