Health officer brings care to Alpine County

When I was 4-years-old my dad won a rabbit at the Michaelmas Fair. He was a Dutch rabbit of superior intelligence. We called him Harvey. In 1979 when I was signing up for the Alpine County Emergency Medical Technician course I learned that the name of the doctor in charge was Richard Harvey. I was predisposed to like him and was not disappointed.

Recently my daughter was feeling ill. The illness reached a climax one evening so she called our neighbor, Harvey, who said to come over. We knew he'd been eating dinner because he still had a fork in his hand; it stayed there throughout the consultation, diagnosis and prescribing. This is not to illustrate the doctor's absent-mindedness so much as it is to show his total absorption in his work and his availability to his patients.

Harvey grew up hiking in the Sierra Nevada with his family and has always loved the mountains. He and his wife, Kate, and their 2-month-old daughter, Norah, moved to Markleeville 30 years ago. Sarah was born two and a half years later. They left the area for 16 years, living and working in Vermont and Washington state and were glad to return to Alpine County four years ago.

Harvey first became interested in medicine when he was a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley. He was working in the evenings in a sports medicine clinic and was influenced by the team physician. He was a warm-hearted doctor who took Harvey under his wing, explaining medical procedures and the reasons for using them. He was the best kind of doctor, approaching patients in a holistic way, not just writing prescriptions. He took time with his patients, exploring what was going on in their lives, noticing stress levels, enquiring about how much exercise they had and the extent of their use of alcohol and tobacco. Harvey learned that by knowing the patient a doctor can provide the best care and avoid ordering excessive, expensive tests.

In today's system most doctors have little time to spend with each patient. Harvey feels very fortunate to work in Alpine County Health Clinic; because of the small population of the county he and nurse Lynette Bennett have ample time to get to know their patients who can relax into their consultations and feel comfortable enough to cry if they feel the need. They benefit from being able to talk about their concerns and feel heard. His goal is that patients leave happier then when they came in. He is especially rewarded when patients start taking responsibility for their own health.

Harvey is board certified in emergency medicine. Four years ago, when he moved back to Alpine County he made the transition to family practice and public health. As an emergency room doctor he saw people coming in with heart attacks and strokes because control of cholesterol levels and high blood pressure had never been addressed; many patients had neither the money nor encouragement to take care of themselves. Now, as a family practitioner, he works on preventative medicine, educating his patients in better health practices. He says the job of a primary care giver is to get the answer from someone else if you don't know it. He refers his patients to local specialists including acupuncturists and nutritionists.

Harvey is passionate on the subject of health care in the U.S. He says we are in crisis with 45 million people with no health insurance, relying mostly on the emergency room for health care. Taking care of one's health is not a priority in this country even though we are one of the world's richest nations. He cited high instances of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and infant mortality.

He favors a single payer system administered by the government. This system is used by many European countries, including France which has perhaps the best health care system in the world. In the U.S., 25 percent of health care dollars are spent on the administration of multiple health plans, a most inefficient state of affairs. He emphasizes that we need a system that encourages healthful life styles to prevent disease.


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