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One doctor’s journey to Bridge the Health Divide in eastern Kentucky

Published: Apr. 8, 2021 at 3:39 PM EDT
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HAZARD, Ky. (WKYT) - Attracting and retaining primary care doctors in eastern Kentucky is an ongoing ailment in a region where health care is critical. There is also an aging physician population to contend with as well.

An Association of American Medical Colleges report found nearly 30% of doctors in Kentucky are 60 or older.

WKYT’s Amber Philpott introduces us to one seasoned doctor, who rather than retire, is helping bridge the health divide in a region where it’s easy to fall through the health care cracks.

“I do mainly skin lesions and suspicious cancers,” said Dr. Daniel Kenady.

And with that, there is no shortage of patients for Dr. Kenady.

With a busy day of patients ahead, Dr. Kenady can be found in his office preparing for a full day of medicine. On the day we met the staff surgeon he was scheduled to see about 25 patients.

At 74 years old, you could say medicine has been a life long calling.

“I’ve always been cancer-oriented in my surgeries,” said Dr. Kenady.

Dr. Kenady has spent a career helping patients fight cancer, but after 36 years he tried to hang it up when he retired from the University of Kentucky.

“I stayed retired one day and started here,” said Dr. Kenady. The longtime doctor learned quickly he wasn’t meant to stay home.

“I don’t have a lot of hobbies, for 35 years I did a lot of running. I ran 10 marathons, ran out of cartilage in my knees and now I walk,” said Dr. Kenady.

Now, he gets in plenty of steps seeing his patients at Appalachian Regional Healthcare in Hazard. It’s where his retirement led him-- to a region that is ripe for more medical care and it’s why once a week he hits the road headed east from Lexington.

Dr. Kenady spends four days seeing patients either in the clinic or operating room. He has spent the last four and a half years providing care to some that may have had to travel several hours to get it.

“When I was in Lexington we saw a lot of patients with very advanced disease. If they had been closer I think they would have been taken care of earlier, that means in many of these patients the difference between surviving the cancer and not,” said Dr. Kenady.

So why at his age still put on the white coat? The answer is simple.

Dr. Kenady decided in his next chapter to meet the needs of patients where they are. That meant driving to an area where cancer rates are high and deaths from the disease are even higher.

It’s also an area where health disparities are great and made even more noticeable during the pandemic.

“I had a patient with melanoma who kind of got lost to follow up and when he finally re-presented he had an area of spread, things like that is very typical,” said Dr. Kenady.

Dr. Kenady is well aware of the doctor shortage in general facing the region.

According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services’ Administration 47% of Kentucky’s Appalachian counties lost primary care doctors between 2010 and 2018. Finding specialized care can be even tougher.

“I enjoy my time down here, I really do and it’s beautiful,” said Kenady.

For all of the negative surrounding healthcare in eastern Kentucky, Dr. Kenady is seeing improvements.

Kentucky used to be at the bottom of the list for colon cancer screenings, but that’s changing and he says more education for lung cancer is working.

“Lung cancer screening has taken off, we are seeing a lot of patients. Used to be when we started, we were doing them once and then we couldn’t get them back in and I think that’s improved significantly,” said Dr. Kenady.

Dr. Kenady doesn’t know what’s next, only that there are more patients to treat and lives to save, and for now that’s enough for this doctor.

He says he isn’t ready to retire anytime soon, but he does encourage young doctors to give eastern Kentucky a chance when considering where you would like practice medicine.

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