What’s Up, Doc?
The former head of Wilcox Hospital has a new clinic offering a new kind of medicine — integrative care
Dr. Lee Evslin is doing what he loves, and he’s grateful. The former CEO of Wilcox Hospital, who helped engineer a clinic/hospital model that went statewide, is back in full-time practice.
This time he’s structured his practice to align with where he’s been gravitating for a long time – integrating body, mind and spirit. And while he still practices pediatrics, he’s also seeing young adults and patients of all ages in his wellness programs.
The doctor is in and will see you now – along with a cadre of like-minded practitioners – at Makai Ola Integrative Health Clinic. Makai Ola means, literally, life, health and wellness by the sea, and Evslin has founded a practice in Kapa’a next to the ocean that’s about creating treatment programs that fit the whole person.
While the concept of integrative medicine isn’t new – traditional healers around the world experience success in drawing on their cultural practices – it’s gaining ground more quickly as an increasing number of practitioners of western, or allopathic, medicine find more science-based proof of the efficacy of such complementary care and begin to integrate it into their practices.
“We’re not criticizing what exists in allopathic medicine, but there’s an exciting new direction to add on top of allopathic medicine,” says Evslin. “What that allows us to do, in many instances, is decrease medication so that patients don’t have to do so many drugs.
“On an acute basis, allopathic medicine is often life-saving. Whenever a disease turns more chronic, the integrative side asks questions like what are the stresses, are there ways to become more healthy, is there a role for supplements such as vitamins, minerals and herbs, for example.”
Evslin says that more and more physicians are asking what can they do for individuals to help make them healthier. Integrative health clinics look for responses to the question.
“We’re attempting to treat diseases person by person rather than disease by disease,” he says. “Treatment modalities tend to be very drug-oriented, and there’s a growing feeling among doctors and patients that there are other ways.”
Consider, as an example, two recent workshops Evslin attended, one in Portland and another at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla.
“Each workshop had 400 doctors in it,” says Evslin. “They’re filled with excitement because physicians are saying there’s more to this, more ways to treat patients, and we can do it.
“On my pediatrics side, I’m doing traditional pediatrics with always an emphasis on questioning whether there are ways to make this person healthier. I have a foot in both worlds.”
Makai Ola is inspired by the integrated medical centers at Duke, Yale, Scripps and the University of Arizona, with an intent to combine the most effective methodologies of different healing modalities.
In addition to Evslin, practitioners at Makai Ola include nurse-midwife Claudia Brown, CNM, who has helped finance the clinic; Dr. David Rovinsky, chief of the Bone and Joint Center at Wilcox Hospital; psychiatrist Tiffany Niide; and Evslin’s daughter, psychologist Tanya Gamby. Additionally, there are psychologist Judith White; Carrie Brennan, N.D., Rusty Cottrell, PT; Marlene Widmann, LAc, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine; Amalia Gray, LMT, RN; and Penny Ornellas, LMT. Plans are afoot to have an evening walk-in clinic with Kathy Schwab, a pediatric nurse practitioner.
Following the recent Scripps Integrative Clinic workshop, Evslin is in discussion with its founder, cardiolo-gist Mimi Guarneri, about the potential for her to work periodically with Makai Ola.
“I had always dreamed of an integrative clinic. It has intrigued me for years,” says Evslin. “It’s a growing, exciting, energizing field and it seems like a great next chapter in my life as a physician.”
Evslin, a New Yorker born in Brooklyn and raised in New Rochelle, graduated from the University of Vermont in Burlington with a B.A. in philosophy, and then from SUNY Buffalo with a medical degree.
He did a rotating internship and pediatric residency in Maine, and with his high school sweetheart Monica, also known as “Micki,” whom he had married after college and with whom he had two of their eventual four children, headed west to Guam to work in that region’s Family Health Program.
Evslin increased funding, planned, staffed and built the first neonatal intensive care nursery (NICU) in that part of the world – outside of the military, that is. It is now the regional NICU for all the islands in that section of the Pacific.
While on Guam on an 18-month contract that extended to two-and-a-half years, Evslin met a physician from the University of Hawaii who suggested he consider teaching and practicing at UH, or on Kaua’i, as Kaua’i Medical Group (KMG) was looking for a pediatrician.
Evslin and his family came to Hawaii in 1979 and never left. With three other pediatricians, he created a pediatrics department at Wilcox Hospital.
In 1985, Evslin spread into sports and wellness medicine while continuing his pediatrics practice, and in 1990 he became CEO of Kaua’i Medical Group. During his tenure, KMG, later renamed Kaua’i Medical Clinic, grew from 30 to 64 medical providers.
In 1996, Wilcox Hospital and Kaua’i Medical Clinic affiliated. In 1998, Wilcox hospital was named one of the top 100 hospitals in the nation.
Says Evslin, “The synergy between the clinic and the hospital played a big role in the success of the hospital at that time.”
During his CEO years, Evslin was listed numerous times in the annual issue of Hawaii Business magazine that lists the top 250 firms in the state. And somewhere in all of this, Honolulu magazine included him in its annual “Best Physicians in Hawaii” list.
By 2000, KMC /Wilcox looked at taking its hospital-clinic model statewide and the result was Hawaii Pacific Health, which would come to include Kapiolani, Straub and KMC.
“It was a similar organization – but on a statewide level,” says Evslin.
In 2003, the board asked if he would be the CEO of the clinic and the hospital, and he remained so until 2005, when he left as he began to have a difference of opinion with the organization’s philosophy – a difference he feels has, fortunately, decreased dramatically in the years since he left. Through membership in Rotary, Evslin became involved in helping create a pediatric ICU for a hospital for the indigent in Cebu, Philippines. He remains engaged in that project today.
In 2005, he went with the Aloha Medical Mission to Indonesia following the tsunami that wreaked disaster there. Arriving via helicopter because all roads had been washed out, Evslin says, “They were worried about cholera; their medical care had vanished.”
He and another doctor cared for patients for two weeks in a devastated village about 90 kilometers from the epicenter near Banda Ache.
Married for 41 years to Monica – they met on a city bus when they were in 10th grade and began dating in 11th grade – the couple has four children, three of whom live on Kaua’i and one in Los Angeles: Tanya Gamby, married to Chris, is the eldest, has two children, and is a psychologist in practice in Makai Ola; Noah is a writer married to local girl Gen Aki, living in Los Angeles and writing for the TV show Private Practice, charged with medical research; Nathaniel, a teacher at Island School, is married to Marissa Webb and the couple have two children; and Luke, engaged to Sokchea Eng, is partners with friends in an outrigger canoe-building business Kamanu Composites, located on Oahu.
There is a pause as the interview turns serious. Luke Evslin, 26, was run over by his crew’s escort boat during the October Molokai outrigger paddling race. Propellers sliced his back open as he lay bleeding in open ocean.
“He came close to dying; it narrowly missed his spinal cord and major arteries, by less than an inch,” says Evslin. “Out in the open ocean – that he survived was because of the wonderful work of his teammates and medics and all the wonderful things about the medical system.
“These integrative clinics are about body, mind and spirit. Luke told me, ‘I had the most amazing one hour of my life.'”
Despite having no pain medication and lying in an open boat as it smashed through the waves to get Luke to medical help, Evslin says all that Luke could tell them was, “I felt that I was floating on a carpet of love.”
Allopathic medicine wound up saving his life, but, says Evslin, Luke reminds us that the spirit side is there as well.
“We’re entering this holiday with a sense of gratitude for all the caring and aloha spirit that’s been extended to Luke and our family during these times,” says Evslin, and for having been given the opportunity to embark on this new endeavor, to bring true integrative medicine to the people of Kaua’i.
“I feel so fortunate and so excited to be able to do this in my life. I feel I had a career I loved and this is a new chapter, and it feels 100 percent congruent with what I want to do at this time.”
Makai Ola Integrative Health Clinic is located at 4-1558 Kuhio Hwy., across from Kojima’s. It is open Monday-Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For appointments, call 822-4844.