FAIRMONT - There is already an excellent rapport among the doctors, as they joke with each other about what's to come.
"There will be a statue of me out front, at least 13 feet tall," says Dr. Ole Braaten, as the group laughs.
Braaten, who has practiced in Fairmont since 1974 and at his own clinic since 1979, is retiring at the end of the year. But Braaten Medical Clinic will remain in operation, thanks to Center for Speciality Care.
TRANSITION?TEAM — From left, Dr. Corey Welchlin, Dr. Ole Braaten, Dr. Mike Schneider and Center for Speciality Care administrative CEO Steve Hilpipre are preparing for Braaten Medical Clinic to become a branch operating under Center For Speciality Care.
"We'd been talking about it since this summer," said Dr. Corey Welchlin of the Center for Speciality Care. "We were trying to figure out how to continue the practice, and we found a provider with physician Mike Schneider to continue. He is also a general surgeon, and he'll be joining within the next few weeks."
Schneider has practiced with Avera health care in Marshall for the past seven years.
While Braaten's last day of practice will be Friday, he will be around to ease the transition for Schneider and his patients.
"The patients like this environment, and we want to keep the experience the same," Braaten said.
The clinic will retain the Braaten name, but also will be known as the Center for Primary Care.
"Together, we can accomplish more than we can individually," Braaten said. "Medicine has become complicated enough. In order to care, we're trying to establish a coordinated care for patients."
"It's the new model of medical homes," said Welchlin, explaining how general practitioners and specialists can be on the same page for a patient's treatments. "It's easy to have access to that in a small, intimate setup like this. We're able to do a lot of same-day appointments ... the continuity is like being a family."
Schneider will begin seeing Braaten's patients on Jan. 7, and is looking forward to the opportunity.
"I'll be following Dr. Welchlin's lead with the outreach," he said. "It's easier for an able-bodied doctor to travel than some of our patients ... It's exciting because there is so much flexibility, and we can fulfill needs without taking patients to a home base."
Schneider is a general surgeon but will concentrate on the general practice for his first few months in Fairmont.
"Once we get that momentum going, I can do the crossover," Schneider said.
Braaten hopes the move will continue to contribute to quality health care in the area.
"There are a group of us doctors from the 1970s, we all started here around the same time, we all stayed here and invested our time and energy, and now we're all retired or getting ready to retire," he noted. "But I hope this will help to invest more and enhance the overall quality of life here."
"Health care is a big part of the economic picture," Welchlin added. "It translates to economic activity. We hope this will bring in more good people to give strong primary care, and we can do primary care exceptionally well at this level."