From private practice to public health

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer January 20, 2010 02:51 pm

Dr. Kim Montee goes over a patient’s chart with Union Family Health Center Nurse Practitioner Sue Peeples. Montee has been working part time at the center this month. He joins the staff full-time Feb. 1. - BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer
UNION — The Union Family Health Center is adding more key services, as a doctor from La Grande gets set to join the staff full time.

Family practitioner Kim Montee is giving up his private practice in favor of public health work. He’s been working a couple of days a week at the Union clinic this month, and comes aboard full time Feb. 1.

Montee said his new job gives him a chance to practice medicine as a calling, rather than as a business.

“I’ve been a private practice doc, but it’s not where my heart lies,” he said.

Montee, 48, was born and raised in Madras, graduating from Madras High School in 1980.

At Eastern Montana College (now Montana State University), he majored in math with a minor in computer programming. After college, he worked six years as a computer programmer, including a stint with the Kenai Peninsula Borough in Alaska.

There, he and his wife, Annette, were friendly with an emergency room doctor. The friendship rekindled Montee’s dream to someday become a doctor himself.

“I started visiting when she was on duty. I found I really liked what I saw, so I started picking up pre-med science classes,” he said.

By 1993, he was enrolled in medical school at Oregon Health & Science University. He graduated in 1997, then started his medical career in Klamath Falls.

 He did his residency there and worked at a non-profit, family-based clinic much like the one in Union.

In medical school and during his residency, Montee knew La Grande physician Michael McQueen. McQueen, as it turned out, had much to do with Montee’s decision to move to La Grande.

“I was looking for a smaller setting. He talked me into coming and looking at the area, and I liked it,” Montee said.

Montee set up practice in the medical complex on Sunset Drive adjacent to Grande Ronde Hospital, and has been there since.

The practice has thrived, but the business end takes up time he’d rather spend doctoring. So last summer, he opened discussions with the South County Health District about coming to work at the Union clinic.

“It’s a chance to change my focus from the bottom line to truly patient care, which is what I’m interested in,” he said.

Montee said that when he completes the move from Sunset Drive to Union, computers containing his patients’ records will come with him. His patients may choose to continue with him at Union.

“I hope everybody will be able to come here,” he said.

Montee already works as the medical director for the Elgin Family Clinic, and he said that assignment dovetails nicely with his job at Union.

“It’s my hope that sometime in the future we can share resources,” he said.

He added that he is participating in the Northeast Oregon Network’s effort to establish a Federally Qualified Health Center in the region.

The FQHC designation would bring federal grants for improving health services in rural communities. NEON, a local non-profit health collaborative, has already received a grant to research and develop an FQHC proposal.

“We don’t know yet what it would look like, but it would somehow integrate services,” Montee said.

He said the FQHC designation might result in mobile dental and medical clinics, mobile telemedicine or other services.

“Clinics that could take advantage of this would include Joseph, Enterprise, Elgin, Union, Baker and Halfway,” Montee said.

Local community activists worked to form the South County Health District after Oregon Health & Science University decided it would no longer operate the Union Family Health Center.

The non-profit district officially came into being last May, following a vote of approval by people living in the Union, Cove and North Powder school districts.

Since assuming responsibility for the center in July, the district has survived mainly on patient revenues, some bank financing and donations from the community.

Formerly, clinic staff included a doctor who worked part time and as a consultant. That doctor left last year.

Despite financial challenges, the center has forged ahead with expansion plans. In December, it opened a dental clinic staffed by North Powder dentist Joel Bender.

For additional financial support, the board likely will present a tax levy proposal to voters later this year. But in the meantime, the hiring of a full time staff doctor, closely following the opening of the dental clinic, should help the district meet its established goals.

“It will help a lot,” said Sue Peeples, the clinic’s nurse practitioner. “Having a doctor on staff will enhance patient care, and improve our revenue stream.”