Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

By Daniel Thompson
Editor 

Dr. Plate leaving Kimball hospital

Long-time physician will begin retirement at the end of the month

 

Image Courtesy of Kerry Ferguson

Dr. James Plate, Chief of Staff for Kimball Health Services

After nearly 40 years in practice, Dr. James Plate, long-time physician for the city of Kimball, will be retiring from practicing medicine at the end of August.

Dr. Plate, who has served as chief of staff for Kimball Health Services on and off for approximately 20 years, first came to Kimball in 1975 with his then partner Jim Nelson. According to Plate, he had very little knowledge of Kimball at the time with the decision primarily being influenced by the potential success of opening his practice in the region.

"We purchased the clinic from John Byrd who had been here for about half a dozen years prior to that. So we had our own clinic just the two of us. It seemed like a stable community that was large enough to support the docs that were going to be there, and just with the places we'd interviewed, it seemed like this would potentially be a good fit," Plate said.

Soon into his tenure in Kimball, Plate began working with Dr. Al Shamberg, who had been a prominent physician in the city. Over the years, Plate states that Dr. Shamberg served as a mentor, showing Plate and Nelson the ropes and impressing upon them a great work ethic.

"He taught us a lot just through questioning and stuff like that but by his example. He was a great hard worker. The guy put in probably an average of 15 hours a day every day. He'd get here at six. He'd make rounds in the morning, noon and at night, and he'd get home at seven or eight. But he'd many times be up here in the early evening. He was not easy to get between midnight and six, but I didn't blame him," Plate said.

Though Plate had come to Kimball without any previous ties, he quickly immersed himself in the community and helped shape the Kimball ambulance crew and EMS in an advisory capacity, stepping in as the medical director in their early days with Jim O'Brien heading the service.

"I was kind of excited about it. I was single at the time so I had a little more time than [Dr. Shamberg]. And actually, O'Brien and I went to Philadelphia for a big EMS conference, I think, the first year. That was when CAT scans were first brought out and introduced," Plate said.

Plate also recalls the anxiousness of both himself and O'Brien to keep things up-to-date and do things the right way. He also states that in those early days, members of the EMS service would often assist with procedures if nurses were too busy with other patients to do so.

"In the old days, at least, when we had an acute emergency and we were strapped for nurses, the ambulance people would be there and we'd stick them in there and tell them what to do. And O'Brien's a sharp guy. You could tell him what to do and he wouldn't panic. I can't remember all the things he would've done or not, but he's a good guy, did a lot of good," Plate said.

Though Plate worked in the hospital for many years, it wasn't until 1998 that he truly became a member of Kimball Health Services' staff while also joining a practice in Ogallala where he has split his time with Kimball for over ten years.

"I was independent all the way through into '98, and then in August '98, I actually sold my practice to the hospital. And I moved to Ogallala and worked for the hospital on a part-time basis contractually. That was '98, and I worked for a guy down there that had been a medical student of mine years before. And he and I actually bought into his clinic for several years and then about three or four years ago, I sold that and he bought that from me," Plate said.

Looking back on his long career in Kimball, Plate states that there are many people he's worked with that stand out to him as the "greats" that he's encountered.

"People like Al Shamberg, I mean, he'll forever be in my mind as not only a mentor but a friend, great guy. Joyce Sorenson, to me, she was the epitome of great nurses. She would be here as director of nurses working probably an average of 60 to 80 hours a week and getting a salary which was based on a 40 hour week. Plus, I mean, I don't know how many patients came in and delivered before I could get here in the hands of Joyce, because she was fairly experienced and had done a lot of training. Somebody like that you just never forget. Gayle Perkins, who was a PA, is another one of the greats that's worked with me for over 20 years," Plate said.

However, in looking back at all those who have supported him throughout his many years in the field, Plate states that his biggest supporter has and perhaps always will be his wife.

"She's put up with me for lots of years. There were times where I was doing the whole Al Shamberg routine, getting up at six in the morning and not getting home until midnight and not seeing my kids for five days out of the week because they were sleeping. When we were down to myself and Kerry Mayhew, which is another one of the greats, literally, we'd be doing that. We'd be doing our surgeries after we got done with work, because there was two of us. So you remember some of those things," Plate said.

When asked the reason behind his impending retirement, at first, Plate jokes that he is "old enough to retire" while also citing a desire to leave the medical field while he feels that he is still at the top of his game rather than waiting until he could possibly be doing more harm than good for his patients.

"I think I'm still providing good medicine, but somewhere between now and the 80 year old mark, you're going to lose it. The odds are you're not going to think as clearly. Quite frankly, my reflexes aren't what they were 20 years ago. I don't think I've done anything big and bad, and I certainly haven't done anything intentional big and bad. But the likelihood increases the older you get. And I think I'd rather, like Larry Bird, quit while you're on top of things, not when you're getting beat every day," Plate said.

However, when one digs deeper below the surface and Plate's calm, composed demeanor drops ever so subtly, one of the more emotional and more substantial reasons for his departure emerges: the increasing weight he carries in his heart with each death of a patient he has cared for.

"The other part of it is you get so attached to the community. I tell you, you don't always think of it, but the emotional attachment when somebody dies, when something happens that you really don't want to happen, you carry it," Plate said.

Plate recalls even recently being, in ways, haunted by the death of friends that have been his patients, offering a rare glimpse behind the stoic veneer that many doctors are forced to show day in and day out.

"I had [someone] who I considered a good friend, and within the last couple months, [they] died at 94 years old. Well, geez, at 94 you should be dying, but I still moped around at home for a week after that. You know, the guys over at Vista Villa, shoot, I think of them as buddies, not elderly people. When you're taking care of them and you get that attached to them, the more they drop off, the more it takes a part of you. And I tell you the truth, I'm just ready to be done with that, I think. Doesn't mean I won't be emotional, but I just don't know that I want to keep doing that," Plate said.

Plate states that his retirement will be a complete termination of practicing medicine and seeing patients, though he states that he would still consider consulting on some matters and possibly helping with medical missions in the future.

"I went to Haiti almost seven years ago for two weeks on a medical mission, and quite frankly, it's a very fulfilling experience but a fairly stressful experience. If I was to do something in medicine again, I'd probably do something like that. I was still working pretty full-time at that time and so it really took a chunk out of my schedule and puts some stresses on my life in other ways, because I was working. If I'm not working, I might do something like that. But I don't intend to take up a practice for reasons of professional gain at this point," Plate said.

In parting, Plate encourages the people of Kimball to be patient with their local physicians and members of Kimball Health Services. He also encourages them to not see changes in the medical field as something negative concerning the issue of not having the same doctor for every visit, stating that he believes that they will still be receiving quality care.

"I bet internal medicine docs in Scottsbluff would struggle if they didn't have five or six guys at least, because nobody wants to take that much call. I say that to put the perspective of when people in the community are frustrated because they don't have the same doc all the time. I still think quality care can be provided. But it's in the form of a different face. I would encourage them to encourage people to live here. I'd encourage them not to abuse the ER, because that's, quite frankly, the most frustrating part of this community, the ER," Plate said.

In relaying frustrations with members of the community abusing the ER and a wish that more residents would show respect for the tough schedules that local doctors have to deal with, Plate made his point by recalling an emergency room visit that occurred in 1975 when he had only been practicing in Kimball approximately three months.

"Joyce calls me at three o'clock in the morning and this guy had walked into his house after delivering a calf and his wife had shut the glass sliding door but the screen was open so he thought the door was open. So he walked in the glass door and cut himself. So she calls me at three in the morning and I'm sewing away at this guy, and I said, 'Geez, I don't think I've met you.' And he said, 'No, no. Shamberg's my doctor.' And I said, 'Well, how come you didn't call Al Shamberg.' And he said, 'Well, geez, it's three o'clock in the morning. I don't want to call him.' And I kind of looked at Joyce, and she's standing over there choking down a laugh," Plate said.

However, Plate clarifies that in an emergency, like the one above, it is perfectly acceptable to come to the emergency room. However, he asks residents to be mindful of whether or not their situation truly calls for a late night emergency room visit.

"If people could have that respect of the docs in town, not that they don't need to be taken care of if they cut the dickens out of themselves at three o'clock in the morning, but the respect of, 'Do I really need to be down there at three o'clock in the morning?' And the answer in a lot of cases is no, you don't. We're not saying if you're having a heart attack you shouldn't show up. But most of the people that are abusing it know well they're not having a heart attack so why do they do it?" Plate said.

Plate also encourages the people of Kimball to show respect to the current and future employees of Kimball Health Services and to have faith in how they handle situations and with the system of the new generation of doctors coming to the area.

"I have not seen anybody who is not a quality individual. We're not getting people who are yahoos. We got people that are quality. You just don't see the same one every time. There's kind of a reason for it. It's part of the transition of medicine. I'd say have patience. Deal with it. Don't abandon the system, because I don't think the system is broken. It's just struggling to keep its head above water some times," Plate said.

Dr. Plate's last day of work will be August 27. The hospital will be holding a Business After Hours from 5 to 7 p.m. that night in the Kimball Health Services parking lot to honor Dr. Plate one final time before his retirement takes full effect.

 

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