Dr. O'Connor Shifting Practice to Long-Term Care
Posted on Friday, December 10th, 2010
Dr. Vergil Smith, 80, and Dr. J.T. O'Connor, Jr., 64, join with long-time clinic director Connie Barker on one of O'Connor's last days in the Mercy Health/Love County clinic. O'Connor will transition to serving long-term care patients on January 1. Smith and O'Connor have practiced together in Marietta since 1973.
Starting January 1, a familiar face will be missing from Mercy Health/Love County clinic.
Dr. J.T. O’Connor, Jr., will no longer be reporting to the clinic every day for a full patient load in family practice.
Instead, after 37 years, he has decided to narrow his focus to the fragile population he has cared for mostly on weekends and at night – geriatric patients in long-term care.
“I will concentrate on one of my first loves, elder folks’ medical care,” he said. “I’m excited about it, looking forward to it.”
O’Connor said he will be seeing Love County patients in nursing homes, assisted living, and other types of long-term care in Marietta, Ardmore, and Wilson.
He will continue to be employed by Mercy Health/Love County. Long-term care is a component service of the hospital.
“I’m not moving. I’m not leaving. I’m just changing focus,” O’Connor said.
When his geriatric patients are hospitalized here, he will care for them.
He will continue to be on-call on a rotating basis on weekends in the emergency room.
He will retain leadership posts as hospital chief of staff and medical director of Love County EMS, according to hospital administrator Richard Barker.
Barker said a new physician will be working for the clinic.
O’Connor said his clinic patients have taken the news of the change well.
“I’ve talked to everyone informally about it for a long time, probably five years, to let them know my interest was in long-term care and that eventually I hoped to do that fulltime,” he said.
The hospital issued a formal announcement three months ago as patients called to make appointments.
“Everybody’s encouraged me and is happy for me and just very supportive. I have not had one single negative comment from any of my patients. That’s a blessing, and it’s with some emotion I do this, but it’s also something I need to do,” he said.
O’Connor described himself as one of the few long-term care physicians in Oklahoma.
“There are only a handful, but I expect that will change, because long-term care has changed considerably. We see people with pretty severe illnesses that often were cared for in a hospital for an extended period but now are discharged to long-term care, so we are really providing acute care along with chronic disease care,” he said.
O’Connor’s career, all in Marietta, began in 1973, at age 27. His medical interests have followed the aging of his clients.
“I started out doing a lot of pediatrics and obstetrics and then as time went on and my patient group aged, my interests then changed. Now a lot of the folks that I took care of are in long-term care, so I’m continuing to take care of them,” he said.
O’Connor is regularly extolled in print for unstinting time devoted to patient care – including house calls and telephone consultation from home or hospital, whatever the day or hour -- and for compassionate end-of-life bedside care.
Countless families have honored him as “honorary pallbearer” for their loved ones.
Local author Lois Carter dedicated her new book on family caretaking for the aged, Boundless Grace, to “Dr. John T. O’Connor, a truly dedicated doctor who loves and respects the elderly.”
Within the hospital, O’Connor has been a sought-after mentor.
Physician assistants-in-training have rotated through the clinic and hospital under his generous supervision for 30 years, almost from the time the state’s P.A. program was launched.
In appreciation, the Oklahoma Academy of Physician Assistants honored him in 2009 as “Physician of the Year.”
“He has influenced and inspired a lot of us,” Barker said. “He controls client care, but he makes it a point to invite nurses and P.A.’s in training to witness the process. He takes time for every student.”
“In all the years I’ve worked with him, I’ve never seen him angry,” Barker added. “He simply loves what he does.”
Asked to attribute his deep interest in elder care, Connor cited his maternal grandparents, T.A. and Christine Littecan of Wichita Falls, TX.
“I was very close to my grandfather and grandmother, spent a lot of time with them by choice. He had a farm and construction company, so while growing up, I worked with him both places. He was a medic in World War I, so that got me interested in medicine,” O’Connor said.
For several years, O’Connor has played a prominent role in state organizations that focus on long-term care.
In July, he concluded a 5-year term on the Oklahoma State Board of Examiners for Nursing Home Administrators, including three years as chairman.
The board licenses and disciplines more than 800 nursing home administrators. O’Connor was appointed to the post in 2005 by Governor Brad Henry.
Henry also appointed O’Connor to two state committees. The pain management committee developed a system for quality pain management in long-term care. The medical direction committee developed best practices in medical direction for long-term care.
Nationally, he is a fellow of the American Osteopathic College of Occupational and Preventive Medicine. He served on the college’s board of directors and edited its web site and newsletter.
Locally, he has served as medical director of the Love County Health Department and the Emergency Service Board.
He has been a consulting physician to Mental Health Services of Southern Oklahoma.
Prior to his service on the board of examiners, he was medical director for Lake Country Manor and two other nursing homes in Ardmore.
He has been a volunteer physician for Good Shepherd, a charitable clinic in Ardmore.
He has served on the Board of the American Red Cross.
As a licensed ham radio operator, he helped establish emergency telecommunications that will keep the EMS in contact with the emergency room if conventional shortwave radio or telephone communications go down.
In addition to his D.O. degree from Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1972, O’Connor earned a master of health from OU’s College of Public Health in 1992. The department named him its outstanding student.
Facts (Some Little Known) About Dr. O’Connor
Place of Birth:
Sheppard Air Force Base, Wichita Falls, TX.
Karen O’Connor, married since 1968. They met as undergraduates at the University of Dallas. She taught school to help her husband through medical studies and is a medical recordkeeper. “She has been my partner from the get-go. She does a lot of organization of things for me on programs and initiatives I want to do in medicine.”
Jennifer Burk, Frisco, TX; Brian O’Connor, Marietta; Kyle O’Connor, Oklahoma City.
Devin O’Connor, 13; Logan O’Connor, 10, the sons of Brian and Cynthia O’Connor.
Flyfishing and scouting. He and his sons are Eagle Scouts. He was their scoutmaster and said he plans now to be the same for his grandsons.
Reason for Settling in Marietta:
“To join the medical practice of Dr. Vergil Smith. After meeting Dr. Smith and before seeing anything else, I knew this was where I wanted to be. He inspires me and I really felt like he would be a good mentor to me, and I was determined to come practice with him. Then I saw the new hospital and the rest of the community and they were very attractive to me. But the #1 factor was Dr. Smith.”
Occupation if He Had Not Become a Doctor:
“This is kind of embarrassing, but as a young child, I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be a physician or a garbage man. I just thought that all the stuff they were hauling around looked like it still has some use. Karen says I am both physician and garbage man right now.”