Dr. Robert Faulkner to re­tire in May

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - MERIS LUTZ mlutz@cov­news.com

When Dr. Robert “Bob” Faulkner first be­gan prac­tic­ing medicine in New­ton County 50 years ago, an of­fice ap­point­ment cost $3. Wait­ing rooms were seg­re­gated by race. There were no men­tal health fa­cil­i­ties, and delin­quent chil­dren were sub­jected to the reg­u­lar court sys­tem.

But where Faulkner saw the need for change, he pushed for it, and by the time he re­tires in May, he will have a long legacy of com­mu­nity ser­vice to look back on.

A na­tive of McCormick, South Carolina, Faulkner was moved to study medicine by his de­sire to go on med­i­cal mis­sions. He stud­ied at Emory and Bay­lor be­fore com­plet­ing his surgery res­i­dency in Shreve­port, Louisiana, and also stud­ied at Columbia The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in De­catur.

He first be­gan work­ing at the New­ton County hos­pi­tal in 1964, and opened his own prac­tice a year later.

“I came in as the young rad­i­cal,” he re­calls, sit­ting in his of­fice over­look­ing High­way 278. A se­ries of repli­cas of 17th cen­tury med­i­cal etch­ings adorn the wall be­hind him.

“I was the first not to have a seg­re­gated wait­ing room,” he said. “It made my black pa­tients a lit­tle un­com­fort­able when they asked where they could sit and we told them they could sit wher­ever they wanted.”

At the time, be­fore Medi­care and Med­i­caid, poor peo­ple had very lim­ited ac­cess to health care, and treat­ment op­tions were few. All the lo­cal doc­tors were “very gen­eral prac­ti­tion­ers.” CT scan­ners and mag­netic res­o­nance imag­ing (MRI) had yet to be in­vented, and there were only three or four an­tibi­otics.

“All of us did ev­ery­thing, from de­liv­er­ing ba­bies to surgery to anes­the­sia,” Faulkner said. “We did the best we could in that era.”

Among the gaps in ser­vice was the lack of re­sources for men­tal health. Faulkner, who had stud­ied psy­chol­ogy at Emory Univer­sity, helped found the first men­tal health clinic in the county, com­prised mostly of vol­un­teers and lo­cated in a build­ing do­nated by the Epis­co­pal Church.

“It [men­tal ill­ness] was not un­der­stood and we had no fa­cil­i­ties ex­cept to send peo­ple off to Milledgeville, which was the big state men­tal hos­pi­tal at the time, so this was re­ally quite ad­vanced that we had at least one pro­fes­sional and a vol­un­teer sup­port group, and that was the start of the men­tal health as­so­ci­a­tion,” said Faulkner.

He was also asked by the lo­cal schools sys­tem to spear­head the es­tab­lish­ment of the county’s first ju­ve­nile court sys­tem, a re­spon­si­bil­ity he hap­pily shoul­dered.

“It’s re­lated to health; it’s re­lated to pub­lic health, and those are ar­eas that I have a con­cern for,” he says.

Through­out his ca­reer, Faulkner strove to serve not only his own pa­tients, but to im­prove ac­cess to health­care for the en­tire county. As five-term chief of staff at the hos­pi­tal, he pushed for bet­ter equip­ment and more cov­er­age, even on week­ends, which was un­com­mon for a small hos­pi­tal at the time.

Faulkner, an or­dained Bap­tist min­is­ter, also fol­lowed his call­ing abroad in Africa and South Amer­ica. He spent time in Zim­babwe and Ghana in 1960 and 1970, treat­ing thou­sands of pa­tients in un­der­served, rural ar­eas. Five years ago, when he was in his sev­en­ties, he trav­elled to Hon­duras to do the same.

Whether he is work­ing in a for­eign hos­pi­tal or his of­fice on Mill Street, Faulkner says he tries to re­mem­ber the mes­sage of Je­sus.

“[I make] an ef­fort to be con­sid­er­ate and car­ing above all else, re­ally,” he says, re­flect­ing on the in­flu­ence of his faith on his med­i­cal prac­tice.

While he has no spe­cific plans for his retirement, Faulkner, 78, is look­ing for­ward to spend­ing more time with his fam­ily, es­pe­cially his grand­chil­dren. Af­ter so many years of work and ser­vice, how­ever, he ad­mits that the prospect of retirement is “bit­ter­sweet.”

He says, “I’d like for my pa­tients to re­mem­ber me as some­one who re­ally cared about them, not just phys­i­cal well be­ing, but cared about them as peo­ple.”

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