Dr. Michael Newdow

Garberville >> Dr. Michael Newdow has stepped in as the interim emergency room medical director at the Jerold Phelps Community Hospital in Garberville since Dr. Pleatman, who was the emergency room medical director, died in an airplane crash in Garberville in November.

Newdow has worked as an emergency room doctor one week a month at Jerold Phelps Community Hospital for about four years. Since taking on the job as interim emergency room medical director his duties have increased, with more administrative responsibilities and meetings, he said.

Newdow commutes to Garberville by car from Sacramento where he has been living but said he is moving to Clear Lake, where he has just bought an RV park.

“I fly all over the country to do locums work,” he explained, since there is a shortage of board certified emergency room doctors. A locum physician fills in when hospitals or clinics are short staffed. He has recently worked in Ohio, Wisconsin, St. Thomas, and Alaska. He said he finds locations that are enjoyable, and new jobs often pop up.

“The other places are busy places,” he added.

“I’ll find a location that is enjoyable and develop some camaraderie. They are always looking for full time people, which I don’t want to be,” he said, “when they get their count of full time people, I don’t have a gig anymore.”

Newdow scuba dives and has a pilot’s license but said he has not flown in awhile. He joked that he thought it might be a board certification requirement that all E.R. doctors have to be pilots and scuba divers since it seems like they all like to fly and dive. He said he might get a float plane now that he is moving to Clear Lake.

Newdow is from the East Coast and was an undergraduate at Brown University in Rhode Island. He went to University California Los Angeles for medical school and University of Michigan for law school. He did a fellowship in emergency medicine at UCLA and participated in public health school there.

Newdow also does some constitutional law work without pay to try to better society, he said, mostly working with first amendment organizations involved with religious freedoms.

He has a daughter at University of California Santa Barbara, a brother in Ohio and a sister in New York.

Newdow observed that Southern Humboldt Community Healthcare District (SHCHD) administrator Harry Jasper has a good vision for the health care district, and is working hard to make the hospital an excellent facility.

Newdow said he has experience with a lot of different electronic health records (EHR) systems but has not used Healthland, the one SHCHD has recently adopted.

“Harry has arranged for us to become a pilot site for this EHR so we’ll be able to provide input,” Newdow said. In that way, he hopes he and the district staff can make suggestions that will improve EHR service overall.

“They are all pretty much terrible,” he said, of electronic health records systems. “They function okay but you shouldn’t have to take a course to use them,” he added.

“Data shows that we now spend half our time charting,” he explained. “We didn’t use to spend that much time. In that regard it is extremely inefficient. For labs it’s great, and physician order entries, it is more efficient,” Newdow went on, “It is not the great advance we had hoped for.”

He had experience programing medical systems back in the day of the disc operating system in the 1980s.

“I think we need to get rid of the doctor, essentially. Computers now can do what we do much better and they can be programmed not to make mistakes that we all make when capturing information. You need technicians and you need surgeons, and for the people who want to pay for the interaction with a human, that’s fine, but to get the best medical results I don’t know if that’s required. I think computers by themselves can be programmed to do that better than we can,” Newdow said, explaining a personal philosophy he has.

Newdow said Southern Humboldt is a unique, beautiful area.

“We have an excellent staff here,” Newdow said, noting the dedication of the people at the district. “We do a pretty good job, considering our resources.”

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