Doctor Looks Back on Rural Outreach Medicine - | News, Weather & Sports in Billings, Montana

Doctor Looks Back on Rural Outreach Medicine

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Doctors who make house calls might be a thing of the past, but Billings Clinic is combining the age-old concept to new advances in medicine.

For nearly three decades Dr. Roger Santala has provided his expertise to patients in and out of the state. Chester Wirtz was diagnosed with liver cancer about a year and half ago, and he travels nearly 100 miles to Williston from Outlook to receive his chemotherapy treatment. Despite the long distance, Chester said he's very grateful to have Dr. Roger Santala make weekly trips to Williston. "Well, I don't think I would be alive today if it wasn't for him. He is the one who caught the cancer to start with. I had no idea there was anything wrong to start with," Wirtz said.

Even in the harshest weather conditions, Dr. Santala says his biggest concern is patient care regardless of where they're at in Montana, North Dakota or Wyoming. "Those sorts of challenges to medicine make it exciting and rewarding," Dr. Santala said.

Dr. Roger Santala said outlying hospitals, like Mercy Medical Center in Williston, have really grown since he started traveling in 1987. "The hospital was able to recognize an opportunity and put together this cancer center. This new space is fantastic, and it matches up comparably to anything really throughout he state," Dr. Santala said.

But, after nearly three decades of dedicated service, Dr. Santala is scaling back and preparing to retire. "This is going to give me a little more flexibility so I can take advantage a little more time off and get a glance of what the world outside of medicine looks like," Dr. Santala said.

Chester's wife, Grace Wirtz, said she feels so blessed to have Dr. Santala's expertise available closer to home. "I think if we would have had to go to Billings for these treatments, we wouldn't have been able to do it. We couldn't do it at our age, and I just don't think we would have been able to," Grace said.

Dr. Santala said he's looking forward to time off, but he's confident his new replacement, Dr. Pamela Smith, will be able to fill his shoes and provide the same care for his patients. "It's obviously one of the most difficult parts. There are people I've been taking care of for 20 years, and they're kind of part of the family. Not to see them will mean something is missing, but knowing they are doing well will bring some satisfaction," Dr. Santala said.

Dr. Santala said he's busy wrapping up his final trips, and he's showing Dr. Smith the ropes throughout the area.