Town Rallies To Keep House Calls

Monday, July 31st 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

WINTERS, Calif. (AP) — Dr. Bill Davis has called it quits, but not from practicing medicine.

The family practitioner left Sutter West Medical Group in June, saying the managed care system didn't allow him to spend enough time with his patients.

Davis' neighbors in rural Yolo County apparently approve of his decision. They are raising money for a clinic for the doctor known for making house calls on his son's bike if his car isn't available.

The Winters Healthcare Foundation was formed in June by friends and neighbors who told the doctor they didn't want to see him leave the town, where he has spent his entire 14-year career.

The board, still awaiting nonprofit status, plans to open a 840-square-foot clinic Sept. 1. Much of the office and medical equipment was donated, Davis said.

Davis, 47, one of three doctors in the town of 5,200, about 70 miles northeast of San Francisco, calls himself a ``conscientious objector'' to the health care system.

``I was tired of seeing patients have to wait for oxygen or wait for pain relief,'' he said.

The foundation is trying to raise $500,000 through in-kind donations and community events, said volunteer Theresa Cox. Buckets for donations sit on the counters of many local businesses.

Eventually, the foundation will employ Davis and hire a physician's assistant, a receptionist and a nurse. But when the doors open, the clinic will be run by volunteers — including Davis.

``I don't anticipate having any income for the rest of the year,'' Davis said.

Davis, his wife Wendy and their two sons, will live on Wendy's income as chief ombudsman with the state Department of Mental Health and the couple's savings until the clinic can afford to pay Davis.

``There's a real sense of being someone in the community, everyone has a role here,'' said Wendy Davis.

``If that means you go to someone's home to see them, then you go to someone's home. If it means looking at an arm at a Little League game, then you look at the arm at the game,'' Bill Davis said.

The community is accustomed to Davis' personalized brand of medicine, from making house calls to standing by at soccer, football and baseball games in case of medical emergencies.

``One time my son crammed Play-doh into my daughter's ear canal with a Q-tip, really stuffed it in there. I called Dr. Davis and he came right down on a Saturday to take the Play-doh out,'' said Debra Ramos, the editor of the weekly Winters Express and a patient of Davis' since 1986.

A yearly membership fee of $100 per household will cover a checkup with Davis, enrollment in any health courses offered and consultation on how to get the most of a health insurance plan, said Wendy Davis. The foundation is also considering creating a co-op, that would charge an upfront fee and cover all routine health care, she said.

The clinic will take insurance, Medicare ``and chickens,'' Bill Davis said — but it won't accept HMOs.

There's no official data on how many doctors leave affiliations with managed care plans, but health care management consultant Albert Lowey-Ball said the numbers are relatively minuscule.

``Of course, there is a great deal of dissatisfaction that physicians have with respect to health plans and larger medical groups related to the level of fee-for-service or capitation rates and over-the-shoulder management,'' Lowey-Ball said.

Sutter West President Harris Levin said Davis told him he was leaving because he was frustrated over the increasing amount of red tape and paperwork involved in billing.

``I can hardly think of a single doctor who isn't frustrated with the amount of paperwork that exists,'' Levin said. Plans are underway to reduce the amount of paperwork by using electronic records, he said.

The medical group, which includes 48 doctors, prides itself on being flexible with physician's schedules, allowing them to spend as much time as they feel is necessary with patients, Levin said.

Davis, however, said he felt the group wasn't responsive to his complaints and didn't fit his view of how medicine should be practiced, especially in a small town.

``I felt I needed to get out of a bad situation,'' Davis said.

While the move was frightening for financial reasons, Wendy Davis said she was relieved for her husband.

``The strain of working in a system where you are devalued for doing the right thing is incredible,'' she said. ``I admire him for saying 'I'm going to do the right thing.'''


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