WATER VALLEY – Dr. Joe Walker is retiring after 40 years of taking care of the community’s health care needs.
The news spread rapidly last week and was greeted with a combination of sadness and disbelief.
“I had originally planned to retire at the end of the year,” Walker said Monday morning as he worked on patient records in his office. “I was going to wait until we moved into the new clinic. I thought that was going to take place in October. But, it’s not going to be until the end of the year…probably January.”
Walker said that he realized his contract with Yalobusha General Hospital was out at the end of September. “I got to looking at it and said if I sign a contract for another year I would be obligated to do that year because they’d be depending on it…particularly with the move.”
“This is the Lord’s way of telling me that I need to go ahead and do it now,” he added.
Forty Year Career
His decision to retire comes after 40 years of being constantly on call. “I was getting tired and in poor health and there were things I wanted to do,” Walker said and added that he and his wife, Zandra, have never had a vacation. “Didn’t feel like I could go because it was seven days a week. Pretty much on call all the time 365 days a year.”
He also cites changes in the medical field as one of his reasons for retiring. “There are things that are going on in medicine that I don’t like. For instance, I can write you a prescription for medicine controlling your pressure and your insurance won’t pay for it. The insurance companies are now dictating what medicines you have.”
Walker said that his nurse, Becky Haley, spends a good portion of her day trying to get pre-approval for medicines that are often turned down by the insurance companies. “They won’t pay for some of the good medicines. They’ll pay for a substitute. Not a generic, but a medicine in the same class. It may work for you, but it may not work for me.”
Dr. Walker gave an example of a patient who is taking a new medicine that controls his excruciating pain caused by an operation some years ago but his insurance company won’t pay for it. “He’s paying out of his pocket. Some folks can’t afford it.”
Future Changes In Medicine
The federal programs currently under discussion are going to make it worse, he added. “If I need an MRI on a Medicaid patient, I have to ask the government for it. They’re making the decision on whether or not we can get tests done on people who need to have tests.”
“A whole bunch of doctors are going to retire when this federal plan comes in anyway,” said Walker. “Sixty-four percent of doctors of retirement age are considering it. We can not take care of patients like we used to.”
Walker’s immediate plans include summarizing medical files to ease the transfer of his patients to other physicians. He expects that to take a month or more. He has also been working on a program that would bring a group of outside specialists into the new clinic.
“I am also going to continue to work with my Mississippi physicians health program with the docs out of Jackson. I’ve been doing that for a little over ten years. I go down to Jackson once a month and sit on a board down there that interviews the docs who may or may not be having trouble.”
“Of course, I was one of those docs a few years ago and if it hadn’t been for the program, I would have probably died. It’s a good program. They gave me a lot and I am trying to give that back. Our success rate is about 92 percent.”
Thanking The Community
Retirement is kind of bittersweet, Walker said. “This is kind of like losing our family. It’s absolutely killing me. But, I knew it would. Can’t help it when you have been with the people in here as long as I have been.”
“I need to thank this community for the love and the care and the forgiveness we have here. It’s a wonderful place to live. I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunity to be part of it. It’s been some satisfying years, in particular the last 16.”
“I love the people, I love the town, I love my church and the Lord. And, I’ll miss all of that. You don’t know how I am going to miss this practice.”
“I would like to thank the nurses at this clinic and at the hospital and all the personal down there, the administration, the board of trustees. They have made it so much easier and worthwhile to be here. It’s all been a great work. I’ve enjoyed my life and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to serve the community.”
Walker summed up his years of experience working with the medical needs of the community this way: “I want to give one word of advice to the folks here, particularly at the hospital. Keep the patients first. Patient care is more important that the bottom-line.”
Walker Set Up Practice In Water Valley In 1970
Dr. Joe Walker first came to Water Valley in the late 1960’s as a resident in the emergency room at Yalobusha General Hospital. “I was familiar with the town in 1968,” he said. I worked nearly every weekend in the emergency room down here.”
In 1970, Walker came to set up his practice. “Ross Ingram, Herman White, and Earl Fly were the key players,” he said. “I think Mr. Fly loaned me $3000 to set up in Dr. Spears Clinic. I think we were charging $4 an office visit.”
“They told me if I would come they would work on getting a coronary care unit. The community got in behind it and we had all kinds of fundraisers.”
Walker explained that the coronary care unit at Yalobusha General was the first one in north Mississippi. “Oxford didn’t have one. Nurses came from all over for seminars we had on two nights a week. I would teach in the cafeteria on how to care for a coronary care patient and how to be a coronary care nurse.”
Walker said that hundreds of folks went through coronary care unit. The program lasted for about eight years until Baptist Hospital took over in Oxford, he added.