My last article on the aging health care workforce included this breaking news — we’re getting older! Not surprising, nothing has changed.
According to a 2015 white paper by Merritt Hawkins, the nation’s leading physician search and consulting firm, over 25 percent of Colorado physicians were 60 or older in 2013 and nearing retirement.
One of our own, Dr. Michael Welch, is an unsung hero. He recently retired as Peak Vista Community Health Centers’ Chief Medical and Dental Officer after dedicating himself to improving our region’s health for 29 years. I know him to be a humble, introspective, thoughtful, caring and compassionate man. He reluctantly gave me permission to tell his story and celebrate his amazing career with you.
Dr. Welch was raised in Wichita, Kansas, got his undergraduate degree in biology from Kansas University and joined the Navy Reserves in 1978. He did his residency in Family Practice at Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital in California, where he met his future wife, Lynn, a Navy nurse, and served as an active duty physician for eight years. They have two grown daughters.
“I wasn’t pre-med in college,” he said. “I planned to do something in biology. In my AP college biology class I learned that classmates were pre-med and realized I was smart enough to go into medicine.” Motivated to help people, he was disappointed to learn that many of his classmates were going into medicine strictly for monetary reasons.
After the Navy, the Welches landed in the Colorado Springs area and saw an ad that Community Health Centers Inc. (now Peak Vista) was looking for a doctor. He had never heard of community health centers until starting work there. “The patients I saw looked just like those I had taken care of in the Navy and I thought — I can do this! I wanted to make a difference and saw the work at Peak Vista as an opportunity to do that,” he stated.
A long, distinguished career at Peak Vista of 29 years started May 1, 1990, and concluded Aug. 2, 2019. “I started as a physician seeing patients and moved into administration. I believed I could make a bigger difference in administration,” Welch said. He eventually become Chief of Medical and Dental at a growing Peak Vista while continuing to see patients in Peak Vista’s homeless clinic.
In a previous life, I was a colleague of Dr. Welch’s for 20 years at Peak Vista, 10 of them as CEO. Dr. Welch was a trusted and effective executive team member and a thoughtful innovator. Here are a couple of my favorite “Dr. Welch Innovations” from those years.
In 1998, he read a Journal of the American Medical Association editorial by Redford B. Williams, M.D. about the effect of socioeconomic status on health. He was stunned to learn that lower SES had a greater impact on heath than alcohol, smoking, exercise or weight.
This had a major impact on how Welch viewed Peak Vista’s patient population and the interventions needed to have maximum impact. He concluded that any effective intervention would need to address hostility, depression and social isolation. This drove Dr. Welch to begin integrating behavioral health care in the primary care setting. Peak Vista became an early leader in integrated behavioral health care in our region and the state.
A life-long learner, Welch read a book titled, “Setting the Table” by Danny Meyer. It addressed the transforming power of hospitality in businesses. “I realized that Peak Vista needed to be treating employees better in order to expect them to treat our patients better,” Welch said. This led to a focus on hospitality throughout the organization, including building new and renovating several existing Peak Vista facilities.
Dr. Welch had a significant impact on Peak Vista, its patients and staff and our region’s health. When I asked him for a few takeaways, he was thoughtful, as usual. Here they are:
• Workforce is our biggest local health care issue.
• A high-school level shadowing program might be a way to interest more students in becoming physicians. They, too, may find they are smart enough to be a doctor!
• It is important for some docs to be in the C-Suite, if they have that gift.
• I was proud to work with everyone at Peak Vista. Anything I achieved was a team effort.
No wonder he has received numerous local, state and national awards for outstanding physician achievement.
Thanks for caring and serving, Dr. Welch. It was my great honor to have worked with you and still call you my friend. You have left big shoes to fill.
BJ Scott, an advocate for age-friendly workplaces, is the former CEO of Peak Vista Community Health Centers and its foundation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.