The Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center welcomed an orthopedic surgeon to its ranks for the first time in a year and a half. Dr. Aaron Humphreys joined the hospital staff last month, bringing a much needed skill set to the people of Kodiak.
Dr. Alan Wolf, an orthopedic surgeon and former chief of staff for PKIMC, retired in May 2018, leaving Dr. Russell DeGroote as the sole orthopedic surgeon on the island. DeGroote left the hospital in November 2018.
Humphreys ended the hiatus in orthopedic services in Kodiak, arriving on the island just as the response to the COVID-19 pandemic shut down non-essential medical procedures in late March. But he is slowly but surely building up his practice.
“We’ve been taking care of emergencies along the way, and recently we opened up to certain levels of elective care, so we’re seeing more and more people,” he said. “Up until this week, we were able to do only urgent and emergent surgeries that required care that would prevent significant injury to life or limb. Now we’ve opened it up to conditions that if left untreated would dramatically affect the person’s quality of life.”
PKIMC CEO Gina Bishop said she is grateful to have Humphreys join the hospital team.
“We know two years is a long time to be without an orthopedic surgeon to care for our community, but we were intentional in taking whatever time necessary to find someone who was a good fit for our organization and community,” she said in a written statement.
“Dr. Humphreys is a well-rounded, experienced surgeon who also embodies our mission and values. It is a relief to know we will be able to provide orthopedic care to the community without them having to leave the island.”
Raised in Montana, Humphreys received his undergraduate degree from University of Colorado and his medical training at the University of Illinois. He comes to Kodiak from Texas, where he was a member of a five-person team of orthopedic surgeons in a large regional trauma center.
But trauma is just a small part of what he does.
“My training was designed to make me a well-rounded general orthopedic surgeon for a small town,” he said.
He can provide treatment for injuries such as open and closed fractures, dislocations, and soft tissue injuries. He can also provide treatment for sports injuries, such as ACL tears, rotator cuff tears and meniscus tears, among others. For complicated surgeries, including hand surgeries, spine surgeries and pelvic fractures, patients will still have to seek treatment off island.
Because PKIMC has not offered orthopedic services for more than a year, Humphreys has had to build up the clinic’s capacity.
“We’re really focused right now on getting our orthopedic equipment in the operating room up to date, so we can really expand the level of care we can give the patients here in Kodiak,” he said. The new equipment includes implants and instrument trays.
Currently, Humphries sees patients on Mondays and Wednesdays, but once COVID-19 related restrictions are lifted, he expects to see patients three days a week and operate two days a week, treating up to 10 cases per week.
“My goal is to bring a really excellent level of care to a place like Kodiak, which prevents people from needing to go to Anchorage. Keeping people here on the island, so they can do the recovery with their family close, with rehab close, making life a ton easier — I think that really helps patient outcomes. I think it improves their ability to get better,” he said.
“I work closely with the physical therapy department and the occupational therapy department here, overseeing the patients’ rehab. Rehabilitative processes are part of orthopedic surgery training. Our job is not only to fix things, but to see you back to recovery.”
Humphreys, who grew up hunting and fishing, said he is excited about the outdoor opportunities in Kodiak and the quality of life they afford.
“Alaska is one of the few places that you can live in the mountains and on the ocean at the same time,” he said. “Once you close the door and walk into an operating room, one operating room looks very much like any other operating room you walk into, but when you walk out the front door, it doesn’t look the same.”
He said he looks forward to becoming part of the community, and plans to make Kodiak his permanent home.
“I’ve been trying to get this Kodiak job for a decade,” he said. “I don’t have any plans on leaving.”