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Rural health care

Dr. Mangulis says he still thinks a lot.

by Bill Kunkle

Special to The Pioneer Review

Those who look at western South Dakota as beer-drinking, pickup driving, country music-listening liberals have a lot to learn. Oh, good folks here do that and they add color to the region, but it’s much more than that today.

When a September evening cools this land of valleys and hills, what’s most beautiful are the shadows’ cool fingers stretched across flutes of parched brown. People are blessed by the privilege to live here.

The health and safety of its citizens is foremost in the minds of the sensible movers and shakers that make it happen. It has taken the vision and endurance of many people to make these services available.

At the head of the class is the Hans P. Peterson Memorial Hospital, which was dedicated by an open house on May 11, 2002, and its Philip Health Services system. Kim Kanable has been its administrative assistant for six years. She is from East River (Sioux Falls), but they don’t hold that against her! She is a bright, pretty, very effective administrator who appears to be about thirty-two. “When I tell people back east that Philip is 85 miles from the closest McDonald’s or Wal-Mart, they look at me like ‘are you kidding?’,” she said.

The hospital has three doctors (MDs), a physician’s assistant and a nurse practitioner. There is a host of modern treatment and diagnostic equipment on hand – a complete X-ray department including CAT scan, a physical therapy unit; a 30-bed nursing home; and an assisted living center of 16 apartments. And they have a Bible in their clinic’s waiting room!

Dr. George J. Mangulis, 83, is the senior health care provider and still comes to his office every day to see patients. A modest man, he said, “I’m the mailman – pick it up every morning and deliver it to the clinic/hospital.” He was born in Tukums, Latvia, a Baltic State. He interned at Sioux Valley Hospital in Sioux Falls, SD, and when he learned Philip was looking for a doctor, he came out for a look. It wasn’t the beautiful scenery which attracted him, although he loved the hills; it was the people. They needed him (he has been here for more than 50 years) and he wanted to raise his family of four children in a small town. The doctor’s wife, Rasma Lielmane, is an internationally renowned violinist and the recipient of many awards around the world. She often gives concerts, sponsored by local firms without cost, to an admiring public. Sue Heltzel, vehicle delivery expert at Philip Motor, said, “Her performances are pure poetry, outstanding delights.”

Dr. Mangulis practiced alone here for 30 years and grew to love the people. He built a clinic on his own, but now is an employee of Philip Health Services as are the other practitioners. They see patients from all over this vast area as it is the only facility (along with the Kadoka Clinic) within a 90-mile radius.

On January 1, 2006, the town will celebrate the presence of a hospital for 50 years. Dr. Mangulis said, “I want people to start planning right now for a real celebration with fireworks and all. I want it to be bigger than my fiftieth bash!”

The health care delivery system involves many resources here, like the Prairie Transportation Service. They provide means for people who don’t have cars and the elderly who no longer drive to get to doctor appointments. They even make runs to Rapid City for those who need specialist care. Folks like Virginia Burns, 88, who said she gave up driving a couple of years ago and depends on the bus to “see things and go places. Oh, yes, I just love it and we are so fortunate to have such transportation in a small town like this.”

The fire department’s EMT service is also a vital part in all this and a literal lifesaver. Marty Hansen, an EMT and fire chief, said they have two ambulances and a rescue unit with the Jaws of Life to respond to accidents and medical emergencies.

Zeeb Pharmacy has been a fixture on Center Avenue and very much a part of maintaining the health of the community. They stock the latest prescription medicines and over-the-counter remedies. They also provide professional advice about medication use.

State and local governments have traditionally supported health and emergency services. We must also acknowledge the generous people and donors who made it possible to build and equip the new hospital. It could not have happened without them.

All of this adds up to rural health care at its best. A doctor’s care is not the whole story of the long life and general good health of Philip area residents. It’s also clean air, good friends and stability.

From an open window at Thorson’s B&B, there was the sweet smell of memory. (More photos are available in the print edition of The Pioneer Review.)