Vidalia doctor a ‘business refugee’

Published 12:02 am Friday, May 27, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Dr. John A. White shares a laugh with his patient Richie Walcott, left, and office assistant Wanda Thompson Thursday afternoon at his temporary office on Sergeant S. Prentiss Drive in Natchez. White moved his office to Natchez after the threat of the Mississippi River flood.

VIDALIA — For the past three weeks Dr. John White has been seeing fewer and fewer patients in his office.

White, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Riverpark Medical Center, has been living life as a “business refugee,” performing his duties across the Mississippi River in Natchez since May 5 when water began creeping its way up the riverfront.

“We had a typical day of patients scheduled,” White said. “The folks from the city said that they were going to be unloading a lot of equipment on the Riverfront, and we did not want to be in their way.”

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Since that day, the five practices located in Riverpark have all been relocated to different areas of Natchez to work and wait while the water recedes.

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Dr. John A. White recently moved his office to Sergeant S. Prentiss Drive in Natchez when rising waters forced the closure of the Vidalia Riverfront and Riverpark Medical Center.

Once in an office overlooking the mighty Mississippi River, White now performs his duties in a small modular building in the parking lot of Natchez Regional Medical Center.

“The first 48 hours after we decided to shut down operations were crazy,” he said. “But with some help we were finally able to find a spot and relocate.”

Even with a new office and a new location, White said the biggest difference he and the other doctors affected by the move have noticed is a lack of patients.

“There has been a fairly significant lack of patients compared to what we would get on a normal day,” he said. “Business is definitely down.”

White said he does not know what is causing the patient shortage.

“We do not know if it is reluctance from people not wanting to see us since we are on the other side of the river, if people just can’t find where we are or if they even know we are open for business,” he said. “It is hard to determine why.”

White said that while the decline in the number of patients is damaging to his business, it is just something he has to deal with during difficult times.

“Of course there is going to be an interruption in the income flow that we are used to,” he said. “We not only lost the individual practices from the center, but our imaging and surgery centers have been shut down the whole time too.”

White said he hopes Concordia Parish is declared a federal disaster area so he and his fellow doctors at Riverpark can get back their losses.

“We are looking at a fairly significant shortfall business wise,” he said. “We are just hoping it is declared so that we can take advantage of some of the programs that they offer.”

During the move to Natchez, White said the Riverpark doctors had to take the majority of their equipment with them to continue operation.

“It was pretty much a total move for most of us at the center when we left to Natchez,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to be moved to a location with some furniture and equipment in it already, but others were not.”

Even with his own equipment in his new office, White said the move has been hard to get used to.

“The space we all occupy is just not what we are used to,” he said. “The normal routine we have all been used to has just been interrupted.”

White said one benefit to his new location at Natchez Regional is the availability to his hospitalized patients.

“It is just a quick walk across the parking lot and into the hospital,” he said. “That is a lot more convenient than having to drive over the bridge.”

With the river slowly declining every day, White said he is ready to get back to work on the Vidalia Riverfront where he and his equipment will be back at home.

The water level at the Natchez gauge of the Mississippi River sat at 60.32 feet Thursday evening. Flood stage in Natchez is 48 feet.

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said water should drop back to the other side of the river walk at 57.5 feet. The river is projected at reaching 57.6 feet June 3.

Even at that level, Copeland said it is still unknown as to when businesses on the riverfront will be able to move back in.