Proper incentives could speed Groveland’s search for new doc

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman December 8, 2014 12:14
driving into groveland early morning

Early morning drive into Groveland

What will it take to lure a doctor to Groveland?

That’s the question facing Sonora Regional Medical Center, which for months has been looking without success for a physician to open a full-time practice in the small (Pop. 601) Sierra foothill community just west of Yosemite National Park.

Groveland now has a doctor, but he’s at the town clinic just two days a week. The community wants and needs more, says Medical Center spokeswoman Gail Witzlsteiner.
She points out that the South Tuolumne County area (Groveland, Big Oak Flat, Pine Mountain Lake, as well as the nearby Mariposa County communities of Coulterville and Greeley Hill) has a population of nearly 5,000. Not only that, but nearly two-thirds of those residents are 45 or older and almost 30 percent are over 60.
Translation: These people are going to get sick, and there are more than enough of them to support a full-time doc.
So what’s the problem? What aspiring young MD wouldn’t want to live in a peaceful, beautiful little community on the fringes of Yosemite National Park? Is the pay too low?
Witzlsteiner wouldn’t give a salary, saying the issue of physician compensation is “complicated.”  But she adds that SRMC would likely pay the new Groveland doc the equivalent of a baseball signing bonus to open a practice, then cover his or her salary for a year as a patient base builds. As rural doctors nationwide on average make more than $200,000 a year, that could be a pretty good deal.
But, Witzlsteiner laments, some doctors test the market during their year-long stay, then accept a new bonus and paycheck somewhere else and move on. Kind of like Pablo Sandoval ditching the Giants – except the Panda went from San Francisco to Boston instead from Groveland to maybe Coon Hollow, Arkansas. 
SRMC, of course, doesn’t like it when this happens. So it’s paying nearly $1 million to a recruiting firm to find doctors who will stick around.
But Groveland, at least in the jaded view of some outsiders, makes Sonora look like an urbane, sophisticated cultural center. That’s why special incentives may be necessary to lure a full-time doctor into the poison oak.
A few suggestions:
  1. A permanent pass to nearby Yosemite National Park, with fully paid dinners at the Ahwahnee Hotel at least every three months. This should include the Bracebridge Christmas Dinner, wine tastings, chefs nights and other morale-boosting special feasts.
  2. A waiver of the park rules to allow Groveland’s new doc – who may be an active, envelope-pushing daredevil-type – to hang glide off Glacier Point at least once a year.
  3. If the town’s new MD is more sedentary, a permanently reserved stool at the Iron Door Saloon, with guarantees that no barroom conversation will begin with, “Doc, I’ve had this pain in my groin for the past month or two and I thought you might…”
  4. Exemptions from any Groveland Community Services District regulations our new physician might deem irrational, illogical or just plain stupid – which could be a lot of them.
  5. No-questions-asked interdistrict transfers out of Groveland-Big Oak Flat District schools and high-powered paid tutors for the physician’s kids.
  6. That the doc’s dog (or cat, gerbil or cockatoo) be elected honorary mayor of Groveland at least once every five years during the town’s annual 49er Festival.
  7. Pledges that SRMC and Tuolumne County will make “good faith and timely efforts” to lure a Starbucks, Trader Joe’s or Chipotle Grill to the Groveland area, along with a movie complex, art gallery and 24-Hour Fitness franchise.
  8. If despite all the above, the new physician decides to live in Sonora and commute, paid daily limo or helicopter service across the canyon. Or, if our MD insists on driving that Porsche or Mercedes, guaranteed lifetime brake service to counter the ravages of Old Priest Grade. 
But what if the new doc doesn’t care about all of the above? What if he or she drives a 4WD pickup, buys coffee at Firefall, goes to the farmers market at Mountain Sage, eats at Two Guys Pizza, shops at Twice as Nice and Mar-Val and sends the kids to Tenaya and Tioga?
What if our MD insists he or she is coming to Groveland “not for the money, but because it just seems like a great place to live”?  
Groveland-SignWell, after the new physician clears the polygraph and psych exams, it might be time to celebrate. Because then the South County would have the kind of doctor it has always wanted – a fellow Poison Oaker.       
But if you want the new MD to stick around, a warning: Keep your groin out of casual conversation. 


Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman December 8, 2014 12:14
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1 Comment

  1. Jan Mathews December 8, 17:25

    Perhaps Doc Martin is growing weary of Cornwall? Might he consider trading Port Wenn for Groveland? Worth asking?

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