The Silver Oak Medical Office is closing its doors on Feb. 28. An announcement from the office stated that the increasing cost of running a private health care business and decreasing reimbursements from insurance companies were the major factors contributing to the office’s closure. An inability to draw new doctors to the area was also cited as a hurdle for the office.

“Changes in the economics of health care have made it impossible to continue in private practice,” said Dr. Peter Oliver, president of the Silver Oak Medical Office in a press release. “We have also been unable to recruit new doctors to our group in recent years.”

According to Dr. Dean Kelaita, co-owner of Silver Oak Medical Office and Calaveras County health officer, students entering the workplace out of medical school are not entering private practice at the same rate as they did when he left medical school more than 25 years ago.

Kelaita said a shrinking employee pool, coupled with difficulties luring new doctors to rural areas like Calaveras County, had put a strain on the private office’s ability to function.

“You have to find the right person who wants to move to a rural area,” said Kelaita. “The doctors that are here are here because they wanted a certain quality of life. They want to raise their families in a more rural setting. It seems like that has become less and less frequent.”

Kelaita said the administration tried to find ways to keep the office open through negotiations with Mark Twain Medical Center and Dignity Health once the fate of the clinic became clear, but negotiations fell through, leading to the outright closure of the 23-year-old medical office.

“A decision like that didn’t happen overnight,” Kelaita explained. “We’ve been dealing with some of the changes and the economics of medicine but what was happening became all too clear. That was probably six months to a year ago.”

The closure of the clinic is indicative of a larger medical care issue looming across the state.

Simply put, private practices are becoming extinct, especially in rural areas like Calaveras County.

The Physicians Foundation, which conducts surveys of America’s doctors, found that 62 percent of physicians were independent in 2008. By 2014, that number had dipped to 35 percent, and the trend continues to nose dive.

“Maybe not only for medicine but also for the other professions,” Kelaita said. “Doctors can make more money and work less. You could go to work for Kaiser if you’re a doctor and you can work more circumstantial hours, have more time off and make more money.”

Patients of the Silver Oak Medical Office were notified months in advance of the closure through email and letters. There is also signage posted in the office waiting room informing patients of the impending shutdown.

“They have been calling and coming by and expressing some concern about what this is all going to mean for them,” Kelaita said. “Our hope is things will continue, but just in a different setting.”

Patients of Kelaita and Oliver should be elated to hear that the two doctors have opted to remain local following the closure.

Oliver will transition to the Sonora Regional Medical Center and practice at the Angels Camp Family Medical Clinic. Kelaita will also see patients at the same Angels Camp clinic.

However, joining SRMC required both doctors to leave the Mark Twain Medical Center governing boards and they will begin work at their new practice locations on as-yet undisclosed dates in March.

Kelaita said that the decision to remain local was important to the two doctors and the patients who have gone to Oliver and Kelaita for the past 20 years.

“I am pleased to be able to continue to care for my patients locally for many years to come,” Kelaita concluded.

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