With Irish humor
and a healing touch,
SPU alumnus treats
the whole person
“Doc” Raney believes quality health care involves a little
magic, the kind of enchantment that happens in a small
town where house calls are still made, people have their home remedies, and medical
bills are sometimes paid in bear steaks and dandelion wine.
What sounds like an episode of “Little House on the Prairie” is Mark Raney’s life.
The 1980 graduate of Seattle Pacific University practices osteopathic medicine in
Sultan, Washington, a town of 4,800 with a school and fire district population triple
that. In 2005, Raney and three other medical partners in the independent Sky Valley
Family Medicine Clinic saw 13,000 patients. While most came from the 77-mile
stretch of U.S. 2 between Sultan and Leavenworth, other former residents drove
from Seattle’s urban center.
“It’s hard to let go of a good doctor,” explains Raney’s assistant and clinic manager
Karen Clark. “The patients know if they’ve got a need, they can just walk in without
an appointment.” Clark, who rides her horse to work except when the river’s too high or the salmon are running (they spook the horse), says country
medicine is just what the doctor ordered for the people of
Sultan, especially the elderly. “It lowers their stress level to see
a familiar face,” she says. Some simply want conversation, others
the comforting reminder that a person can, indeed, function just
fine with a single kidney.
It is that level of approachable care that saved the clinic in
2003, when it lost money and its administrative affiliation with
Medalia Medical Group, and was on the verge of having to close.
A groundswell of community support raised more than $80,000
to help the clinic next door to Sultan Lumber modernize, make
the transition from paper to electronic medical records, and
operate independently. Today, there is talk of opening a second
independent clinic in a nearby community to serve the burgeoning
population without losing the personal touch.
When he’s having a bad day, Raney thinks of the patient on a food-bank budget who insisted on dropping $20 in the save-theclinic donation box every chance he got. Or the elderly man who walked into the clinic one day and calmly wrote a check for $10,000.
Thoughts of his “Red Apple consults” lead to a wry grin. On average, says Raney, three people he knows will walk up to his shopping cart in the local Red Apple Market and ask his advice about an ailment. The doctor is never truly off duty unless he leaves town. On Sundays, he and his family drive 17 miles to attend church in Duvall, where he is just Mr. Raney.
Raney; his wife, Dixie, a surgical specialties nurse; and daughters Meaghan and Maura live on Claddagh Farms, a 15-acre horse ranch outside Sultan, also home to three prized Belgian draft horses weighing a ton each. Raney has wrestled 530 fence posts into place, planted 1,800 trees, and calls the barn he built “my mental health.” It is the place where leather harnesses, an
antique John Deere tractor, and an Amish buggy help bridge the
generations and remind him of a compas-
sionate form of oldtime
medicine that treats the mind, body, and spirit of a patient.
“We do house calls,” says Raney, who is proud of his Irish heritage
and plays guitar in an Irish band dubbed Rapparee (Gaelic for
“romantic rogues”). “Sometimes people need a doctor, and sometimes
they need reassurance. I had one patient, a pioneer woman,
who came here a century ago by ox team from Idaho. When she
was 101, she put on the teapot for me and had banana bread
waiting. Turns out she’d seen an article in Reader’s Digest that
said butter was bad for you. She was apprehensive. So I told her
that if she stopped eating butter, it would kill her. She liked that.”
“Dr. Raney is much more than a physician,” says Karen Frances, a 2005 SPU premed graduate now working in Jordan
for Youth With a Mission. As a student, she shadowed Raney on
the job and observed a model for her planned career in Christian
missions and family medicine. “He is counselor, pastor, doctor, or
friend, whatever he needs to be in order to serve a person best.
Patient after patient told me stories of how great he is.”
Raney deflects praise and instead applauds the eight other
members of the clinic staff. “They could have left during the dark
days,” he says. “Instead, everyone took a pay cut, lost their health
benefits, and forfeited their retirement to keep the place open.
This is more than a clinic; it’s a mission.”
No one is more grateful for the sacrifice than the working
poor, many of whom treat the red-bearded Irishman like their
patron saint of good health. He and his colleagues chose an economic
path so troubled by insurance
regulations and skyrocketing
malpractice coverage that the
trend for most family doctors is
to seek the protection of a hospital
or large physician network.
“We may only have two weeks’
worth of operating funds at any one
time,” says Raney, “but the clinic is
the right thing to do. All of us are
willing to do everything around
here to get the work done. That rids
us of costly administrative layers.”
It was in the 1970s that Falcon
Coach Cliff McCrath learned of a
rich vein of soccer ability in the
Raney clan, an Irish-Catholic family
living near campus with 10
children. “He called me on the job
at a furniture factory and told me
I was needed at Seattle Pacific,”
Raney, the eldest, recalls. “He
helped me get the financial aid I
needed, so I went to play soccer
and accidentally got an education.”
Raney played for a year while
holding down three part-time jobs. Finally sidelined by a serious
thigh injury, he worked with Professor of Biology Ken Moore to
design a course of study that eventually led to a bachelor of science
degree in physiology and sports medicine.
“Mark was fun-loving, enjoyed school, and always displayed a
concern for the welfare of others,” recalls Moore. “He had a holistic
view of life, and I encouraged him to pursue medicine.” Moore
helped Raney apply to the Kirksville School of Osteopathic Medicine,
considered the nation’s best with a holistic philosophy. Raney
received a full-ride scholarship from the U.S. Army, and served for
11 years in its ranks before retiring as a major in the Medical Corps.
The letters behind Raney’s name are D.O. for “doctor of osteopathy.”
He was the first primary care D.O. employed by Seattle’s
Virginia Mason Medical Center. Osteopathy is a method of anatomical
diagnosis and treatment that relies on the belief that
human beings should be treated as a unit, that sickness in one
part of the body can’t help but affect other interrelated areas.
Raney takes it as his solemn charge to put patients at ease, listen
for the unasked questions, and educate each patient to take
responsibility for his or her own health.
“In the process we break some of the rules in medicine about
maintaining a strict separation between doctor and patient,” he
says. “But our patients are the people we go to church with, shop
with, and our kids go to school with. The community has taken
ownership of the clinic, and that’s just the way it is.”
That means cradle-to-grave care. It means tending to sick
children, conducting annual physicals for high school athletes,
joshing an old man that he’s “dying of too many birthdays,” and
being a presence in patient homes at the moment of death.
“Those are some of the holiest of times,” Raney acknowledges, “dying in your home, at peace, with everything attended to. It
makes me feel I should remove my shoes. That’s holy ground.”
The country doctor tries not to wear his Christian beliefs on
his sleeve, preferring that people ask him why he does what he
does. And yet, he says, his faith is everything: “It’s always been
the driving force. And when it seemed there was no way the
clinic would stay open, those were the days I learned to trust,
and I saw our burden lightened.”
In many ways, days filled with work — not as an end in itself
but as a way of serving others — are their own reward. “I come
from hardworking, blue-collar people,” says Raney. “One grandfather
was a butcher, the other a merchant marine who worked his
way up to admiral. Work was what you did. After decades, my
dad’s still coaching soccer at O’Dea High School and has the
most high school soccer wins of any coach in Washington state
history.” Raney has coached the Sultan Turks soccer team for
three years, and there’s talk of a state championship this season.
His brother, Bruce, a soccer standout at Seattle Pacific, is a member
of the Falcon Legends Hall of Fame.
If it weren’t for those house calls and kids running up to tell
him hello at the high school basketball games, Raney might actually
be tempted to leave a profession burdened by complex
bureaucracies, mushrooming insurance costs, and long hours.
Might, that is, if he didn’t believe so passionately in country medicine.
“If we can export this toward the cities, lawsuits will go
down, satisfaction will go up, and people’s health will improve,” he
reasons. “Most people don’t sue because they’re hurt, but because
they’re mad. Why are they mad? No one talks to them.”
Doc Raney talks, listens, and won’t wear a watch. “Don’t want
one,” he says. “You take the time you need to take.”
—By Clint Kelly
— PHOTOS BY Mike Siegel
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