BUHL — More people means more sick people.
It’s a fact that Buhl is coming to terms with and has prompted St. Luke’s to build a new clinic there.
The hospital system is building a new 5,700-square-foot clinic on Burley Avenue. Construction will begin in late October or early November.
It will allow for a wider variety of services based in Buhl — including X-ray equipment and mental health care — so residents don’t have to travel 30 minutes to Twin Falls as often.
The town’s family practice clinic closed to new patients eight months ago because it couldn’t keep up with the demand. The exception: It accepts family members of existing patients.
“Current patients couldn’t get in to see us for a month, which is not adequate when they have urgent needs,” said Dr. Bryan Mason, a family practice doctor who has practiced in Buhl for 3½ years.
The estimated $2.4 million project is slated for completion in mid-to-late 2018. It will replace St. Luke’s existing building on Broadway Avenue South, which has been in use since January 2014.
Laura Jacobson and her family used to drive from their home south of Buhl to Twin Falls for medical appointments. But a couple of years ago, she, her husband and their children — ages 10, 7, 4 and 4 months — switched over to Mason as their primary care doctor.
“We started using it because it’s just so much more convenient,” she said. They live in the country outside of Buhl and her children go to school in Castleford.
Jacobson said they’ve always been able to get an appointment when they needed it, although sometimes there’s a month’s wait.
She likes the small, quiet clinic, and there’s usually only one other person in the waiting room. It’s much easier than trying to park at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center in Twin Falls, she said, where her children used to go to a pediatrician.
“I’m excited for them to have an expanded facility here,” she said.
Jacobson even knows the nurse at the Buhl clinic, and their children go to school together.
In addition to a family practice physician, the new clinic will include x-ray equipment, lab services, behavioral health and other specialty services.
For now, Mason is the only St. Luke’s physician in Buhl. St. Luke’s plans to add a second physician once the new clinic opens.
One of the biggest needs in Buhl is urgent care and same-day services. Mason hopes a larger clinic and an additional provider will allow for walk-ins in the future.
“Unfortunately, right now, it’s difficult to provide that,” he said.
Another need in Buhl is mental health services such as counseling, Mason said. St. Luke’s wants to offer at least part-time counseling or social work services on site.
The new clinic will also include X-ray equipment — something it lacks now. For example, if an elderly patient is sick with potential pneumonia and can’t drive to Twin Falls, Mason is left to make a diagnosis without a chest X-ray.
“To have those services available is going to be great,” he said.
The new clinic will include three provider areas: space for Mason, a new provider and for rotating specialists to come Buhl.
Mason said he grew up in a small mining community in Utah and wanted to practice in a rural setting once he finished medical school.
“A small town was always inviting to me because that was where I grew up,” he said. And he chose family medicine largely because he wanted to live in a small community.
Within the city limits of Buhl, there were 4,298 residents last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. That’s up 176 residents compared with 2010. And that doesn’t include any of the surrounding areas outside of town.
Mason said it’s ideal practicing in the Magic Valley because there’s great support from a hospital system and specialists nearby.
For one of those specialists, Dr. David McClusky, a general surgeon at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center, Buhl has deep significance.
It’s where his grandfather and father were both physicians. McClusky, a third-generation Twin Falls physician who has been in practice since 1982, said he’s excited to see their legacy continue.
McClusky’s grandfather arrived in the Magic Valley in 1908, when Buhl was only 2 years old. He was the primary doctor in the community until his death in 1928.
McClusky’s father practiced in the Buhl area until he left the area to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. When he returned home to the Magic Valley, he started Twin Falls Clinic and Hospital.
“Those two generations pretty well covered the health care for many, many years,” he said.
As a child, McClusky spent many holidays in Buhl. And he tagged along on house calls with his father around town.
He said he hopes he’ll be able to come to the new Buhl clinic on occasion to see patients. “It would be fun to complete the circle of health care that started with my grandfather in 1908.”