People make the difference in health care


West Michigan is reputed to have good medical care. But what makes this possible?

Technology is wonderful, but it really doesn’t add a great deal to the equation. New hospitals and office buildings are nice to view, but they are not what make the difference. When it comes to health, one good sewer in an underdeveloped nation can save more lives than all of the high tech scanners in the world. Providing potable water can save thousands of lives per day in the world, many more than most modern technologies. Buildings don’t provide services for people — they house them. I was often reminded that some of the greatest hospitals in the world also have some of the oldest buildings.

If it isn’t high tech or fancy buildings, what is it then that allows us to boast of our local care?

One fast and easy answer is that we have many people who contribute to our health care environment. But many of those who help our health care environment might surprise you.

It is easy to point to the giants of care. Dedicated doctors have provided services in ways that often are not widely known. William Sprague, an obstetrician, helped organize Rotary’s worldwide campaign to eliminate polio in the world. He tirelessly organized immunization programs and delivered polio immunizations himself around the world. Avoidable polio cases now are found in only two countries, and they are quickly realizing a polio-free future thanks to the work of Dr. Sprague, who recently passed away.

Dr. Ralph Blocksma, a local surgeon, went to hospitals’ physician locker rooms to ask doctors to provide medical mission work here in our local community in addition to their work in exotic locations. Unpaid volunteer local physicians provided the lion’s share of physician services at the forerunner to Cherry Health.

Several physicians, including Lee Pool, John Rupke and Mark Vasu, volunteered to respond to the scene of accidents and initiate care. Before e-units and later our high quality emergency services like Life EMS, AMR and many others, these volunteer doctors dropped what they were doing to drive to the scenes of accidents. They then helped train generations of emergency personnel, providing a basis for the emergency services of West Michigan to be considered the finest in the nation.

There is no way to adequately recognize the many nurses that went far beyond their job descriptions to give that personal touch that made the differences for many people. Nurses volunteered in schools, churches, poverty organizations and many other sites to be sure that people got the care they needed and learned how they could help themselves.

Dentists also have provided volunteer care to our community.

Then there are the thousands of individual volunteers who showed that health care goes far beyond the narrower thoughts of who is a provider. Walter McVeigh, a retiree who passed late last year, was a great example. Walter was a tireless volunteer in our community who served as an educator for the American Cancer Society. A long-time Santa’s helper, he also donned costumes to bring health messages to the area’s children. Never one to say “no,” he always could be counted on to pitch in where a hand was needed.

Ida DeHaas was very active in the UAW. Annually, she would help organize hundreds of unpaid UAW volunteers to organize health screenings throughout the West Michigan. These volunteers made a great contribution to our health.

So, when you see the billboards extoling the virtues of new scanners or buildings, please remember that care is rendered by people, and these people make a difference. They need to be thanked periodically. 

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