Rarely is a small community gifted with the insight and experience from someone who comes into town that has lived a part of their life among unimaginable hardships and challenges. Not only have these unique people seen what most haven’t, they know what can be done to overcome almost anything life throws at them. Dr. Jaya (pronounced Jay-yuh) Parker, the hospitalist for Hermann Area District Hospital (HADH) is one of those people that boomeranged into Hermann, by way of western Nebraska, by way of New Delhi, India.
Try to imagine a hospital labor room where this young OBGYN doctor delivered as many as 20 babies during a nightshift, in some cases up to 10 C-sections a night.
“We had nine tables in each labor room and we had two labor rooms,” she explained. “There is no way, the health care thinking here can begin to wrap their head around the kind of experience and the kind of things that I’ve seen and done.”
Though she says India has some very modern private hospitals, she’s also been on the front lines where resources were lacking for mothers pre and post delivery.
“I’ve seen neonatal tetanus, puerperal child-birth sepsis—lots of complications [with childbirth],” she says.
But there were many more happy endings, than not. She said babies were cleaned up and immediately given to their mothers, since nursery space was limited. That’s the environment, knowledge base and management skills Dr. Parker brought to HADH. But it was a long road between med school and OBGYN residency in New Delhi.
To come to the U.S., Dr. Parker had to complete another residency in internal medicine at the large Cook County Hospital in Chicago, starting in 1994.
“It was a tremendous amount of experience—good training,” she said. “When I finished in 1997, I was under an obligation to practice rural health for a visa waiver [to get a permanent resident green card], so I went to southwest Nebraska to a hospital smaller than HADH.”
The family embraced small town life for all the freedoms it affords, as opposed to city life in a more populous Chicago.
“There were so many good things to being in a rural community,” she says.
After a while, however, the isolation of western Nebraska started to creep in.
“I still had my rural obligation, so that’s what brought me to Hermann in 2001,” she shared. “Hermann is three times the size of where I was and it was closer to a big city, being St. Louis.”
Thinking she might move on in a year or so, she stayed. Though she and her husband Steve live in Ellisville, they also have a home in Hermann.
“I like many things about Hermann,” she says. “I feel that no matter what I do, I’m making a difference. I’m not a number here on a staff of a hundred other doctors.”
She also said she saw Hermann for the first time in the spring when the redbud trees were blooming and felt it was a literal oasis compared to the flat, dreary and dry landscape of southwest Neb.
Dr. Parker serves HADH as the “hospitalist.” That’s simply a doctor that provides comprehensive medical care to hospitalized patients. She says in earlier days, there would be several doctors admitting patients and making the rounds during the course of the day. Now, quiet possibly for efficiency sake, one doctor will make all the rounds.
“Most hospitals will make the rounds with two shifts, a daytime hospitalist and a nocturnist,” she explains. “Because we are small, we have a 24 hour shift, so we cover the nocturnist part of it, as well.”
That doesn’t mean she sleeps in the hospital, but she may be admitting patients from home, by computer. What happens if someone needs a doctor’s attention?
“The emergency room doctor may take care of the immediate problem, but I have to be ready to come back to the hospital if it’s anything other than a small issue,” she says.
Dr. Parker also sees patients in Hermann’s nursing homes.
“If this is what you like, you really can make a difference,” she says.
Dr. Parker’s grandfather on her mother’s side was a country doctor in India. She loves the fact that he was serving people for all the right reasons, helping people without a thought about his pay or early retirement.
“I tell my kids, [patient care] is almost like a mystery novel—especially internal medicine,” she explains. “Originally, it was a little bit of a downer for me to go from OBGYN to internal medicine, and I thought I would eventually change back, but I stuck with it—it’s like solving a mystery, trying to figure it out from 15 possible diagnoses.”
She says the biggest thrill is to get a diagnosis and then treat it at HADH.
“I’m kind of proud that we don’t have to transfer [on average] more than one patient a month [for treatment at another hospital] from our in-patient service,” she says.
HADH’s swing bed admissions have increased (Editor’s note: this is a Medicare program allows patients to receive skilled care services at once acute hospital care is no longer required, but the patient continues to need services that cannot be easily provided in the patient's home).
“The quality of therapy that’s provided here is one of the best kept secrets,” she notes. “If more people from St. Louis or Columbia knew it and would use these services, that would be awesome, because they do such a great job here. [For these patients], I’ll evaluate them, do their history and physical and follow up with them on a day-to-day basis.”
Dr. Parker says she’s always learning, but she has seen a lot since her OBGYN days in New Delhi. She spent 17 years as an ER doctor, so she is no stranger to emergencies.
“I was the ER director here for several years,” she informed. “They had such a need back here [for focused patient care], that I came to fill this position on such an extensive schedule. It’s what I’m trained to do, after doing everything for 20 plus years.”
Dr. Parker is dug in here. She says the community is like family, to the point where if she needs something personally, she can get help. She says people ask her all the time, ‘What are you doing here [in Hermann]?’
“I choose to be here,” she tells them. “It’s almost like you are transformed, living in the past, but in a good way, with solid people. “It’s about the people.”