By IAN ROBERTSON KIBBE
You are going to hear a little more about McAllen, TX on THCB Shortly. And before we dive into what’s happened there lately, I thought those of you who weren’t here back in the day might want to read an article on THCB from July 2009. Where then THCB editor Ian Kibbe interviewed his dad David Kibbe about what he was doing as a primary care doc in McAllen–Matthew Holt
By now, Dr. Atul Gawande’s article on McAllen’s high cost of health care has been widely read. The article spawned a number of responses and catalyzed a national discussion on cost controls and the business of medicine. It even made it’s way into the President’s address to the AMA.
Almost overnight, McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley were thrust into the national health care spotlight – the once sleepy border town became, not a beacon on a hill, but a balefire in the valley, representing much of what is wrong with the current medical culture.
But, McAllen wasn’t always like something from an old Western, where doctors run wild and hospital CEO’s compete like town bosses. I remember McAllen quite differently. I remember it, because as it turns out, it was where I was born.
It’s also where my father, Dr. David Kibbe, practiced medicine from 1980 to 1990. In order to find out how McAllen earned the dubious reputation it now has, I sat down with my Dad, and asked him what he remembers about that little border town on the Rio Grande.
Ian Kibbe: So Dad, what was your first reaction to reading Atul Gawande’s article?
David Kibbe: Well, Ian, it was sort of “oh-my-gosh, he nailed it.” And, of course, a flood of memories, good and bad, came back to me about our time there. My medical career began there, you and your sisters were born there, small town 4th of July parades, etc. But I left after great disappointment and frustration.
IK: What were you doing in McAllen practicing medicine anyway?
DK: The National Health Service Corps sent me there to work in a clinic for migrant farm workers. The NHSC had provided me three years of medical school scholarship, and so I owed three years of service in an under-doctored area of the country. I speak Spanish, and so working as a family doctor in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, which is the home of many of the country’s Hispanic migrant farm workers, was a good fit. Hidalgo County, where McAllen is located, was the poorest county in the country, and there was a real physician shortage there in 1980.