Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 12 May 2009 13:33
In a specialized sense, he’s a modern version of the country physician who traveled rural roads during pioneer days to bring personal, quality medical care to women who otherwise don’t have easy access to it.
Paul Ullom-Minnich, a family-practice physician with the Partners in Family Care clinic in Moundridge, makes the 48-mile trip to the St. Luke Physicians Clinic one or two times a month to provide obstetric services for the women of Marion County.
Ullom-Minnich’s presence is filling a void within the county that has emerged over the past four years when the two county hospitals, St. Luke and Hillsboro Community Hospital, ended prenatal and delivery services.
“I think it’s a volume sort of issue in that there weren’t as many people delivering in the small towns as there were 30 years ago,” Ullom-Minnich said about the opportunity. “At some point it became a not-a-go situation for the hospitals.”
Ullom-Minnich and the three partner-physicians at Moundridge, including wife Marla, all offer obstetic care as part of their family practice. But they also have a desire to see those services continue in small, rural communities.
“The bottom line is, as deliveries decrease in small towns, we’re looking for ways to continue to do deliveries in one,” he said. “We’re interested in preserving the OB that we can in Marion and doing what we can here.”
Officials at St. Luke took the initiative to contact him.
“The hospital said, ‘Would you be interested in doing prenatal care here, and then deliver over there (at the Moundridge hospital)?’” Ullom-Minnich said. “That was something they thought would be a win-win for everybody.”
Generally, all of Ullom-Minnich’s Marion County patients deliver their babies at the hospital in Moundridge.
Terri Bina of Pilsen was the first person in the county to take advantage of the opportunity.
“I chose Dr. Paul and the OB clinic in Marion for convenience when I was pregnant with Kaitlynn,” she said of her daughter, now 2. “It seemed so much easier than driving to McPherson or Newton every couple weeks.
“The doctor came to Marion, lab was done every appointment in Marion, and the sonogram was also done in Marion,” she added. “It was pretty handy since I had three other children at home and didn’t want to haul them around to all of my appointments.”
She admitted she had some qualms about delivering at the small Moundridge hospital, but Kaitlynn’s birth illustrates that the expertise of the larger urban hospital is a ready option when necessary.
“Kaitlynn was born three weeks early,” Bina said. “She was having troubles breathing, as her lungs were not developed yet. Almost before I even knew what was happening, Dr. Paul had a Lifewatch team from Wichita there at the hospital in Moundridge to get Kaitlynn and take her to Wesley (Medical Center).”
The whole experience made a deep impression on Bina.
“I knew from then on that if I ever had another baby, I would want Dr. Paul to deliver it,” she said. “I went to Dr. Paul the second time, when pregnant with Addison (now 10 months), out of a deep respect for him and his staff.”
Ullom-Minnich is assisted in the Marion office by Leah Schmidt.
“Leah is exceptionally well-trained,” he said. “She works full time doing OB and gynecology over at Hutchinson and comes here and does part-time at the hospital and with me. It’s nice to have her available, she’s quite a resource.”
Ullom-Minnich is an Ohio native who came to Kansas to attend McPherson College, where he met Marla. He went on to study medicine at the University of Kansas and did his residency at Via Christi in Wichita.
He and Marla started the Moundridge clinic some 13 years ago in partnership with fellow physicians Kathryn Hayes and James Ratzlaff. They have since opened a satellite office in Inman.
Ullom-Minnich said he enjoys the full spectrum services and patients that are part of family practice, but obstetrics is particularly special.
“It’s very cool,” he said. “One of the most exciting things is I bring along a little sonogram machine when I come to Marion. At each visit we take a look (at the fetus). It’s not like an official sonogram, but it’s just seeing what things look like.
“The first time you see the little baby in there moving and jumping, you think oh my gosh. It’s so early that you can’t tell from the outside that anything’s going on.
“The weeks go by and it gets bigger and bigger and eventually you see the baby. It’s a new life. It’s an amazing thing to be part of that whole process. It’s very rewarding.”
Ullom-Minnich estimates he’s delivered about 10 to 20 babies through his practice in Marion County. The patient load has varied over the 31⁄2 years he’s been here.
“Sometimes it’s gotten very busy and sometimes it’s been slow,” he said. “I think a lot of it is that we don’t have an ongoing presence in the community—we don’t have a building here.
“A lot of being in a small town is going to church with people and that sort of thing,” he added. “We don’t have that exposure here.”
Even so, the partnership with St. Luke hospital seems to be working well.
“We have a good working relationship with the hospital, and because of that we can offer all the diagnostic and testing services—lab and sonogram—right here in town,” Ullom-Minnich said.
Jeremy Armstrong, chief executive officer at St. Luke Hospital, said the benefits are mutual.
“He provides services here at St. Luke that women would otherwise have to go out of town for,” Armstrong said. “All the prenatal services that our pregnant patients need can be done here on site instead of having to drive to Moundridge or Newton or elsewhere.
“It’s gone over really well,” he added. “We’ve been surprised. And I think people appreciate being able to stay here for those visits instead of having to drive out of town.”