Doctor is a boon for health care in the Interior

Posted: Sunday, March 25, 2007

FAIRBANKS - Last year, Dr. Rick Latham was pondering the idea of leaving his medical practice as a cardiologist in Boise, Idaho, to purse his career elsewhere.

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But when a recruiter called to tell him about a job in Fairbanks, Latham said he was skeptical.

"I actually started to laugh," Latham said at the Fairbanks Imaging Center at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

Less than a year later, Latham and his family are calling Fairbanks home and the hospital is calling Latham a crucial new addition to health care in the Interior.

About 450 patients were transferred to Anchorage or Outside for cardiac treatment in 2005 because of the lack of services in the Interior. Now with Latham on staff and a proposed cardiac catherization lab in the works, the hospital hopes more patients can receive treatment quickly and without leaving town.

The hospital began about three years ago to develop plans for cardiac services. The cath lab planned for the hospital is a $7.1 million project that involves the renovation of 2,570 square feet of hospital space. With no public opposition to the project, the hospital hopes to receive the go ahead from the state for the project by the end of the month and Latham plans to begin seeing patients April 2. Since arriving a few weeks ago, Latham has been acting as a consultant to help establish and develop the lab.

Latham said he quickly warmed to the idea of being "an Army of one," as he called it, being the only cardiologist in the state north of Anchorage. He said if he was going to move at this point in his career, after practicing for more than 20 years, he wanted to go somewhere where he could have an effect, rather than being the new guy joining a practice.

"Here, it's an opportunity to be a founding base to help build and mold a program," he said.

"For a city this size and this hospital and this medical staff, to not have these services, I was shocked," Latham added.

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