By MCKIBBEN JACKINSKY
For the Homer News
There have been many finish lines for Randall (Randy) Wiest since he moved to Homer 19 years ago: the Spit Run, Sea to Ski Triathlon, Kachemak Bay Running Club events and more. He also has been on the front line of Homer’s medical community, serving as South Peninsula Hospital chief of staff and, since 1998, as a medical provider at Homer Medical Center.
At 5:30 p.m. Friday, Wiest crosses one more finish line: retiring from medicine.
“At this stage of my life, the script seems to read ‘more, faster, frantic.’ I’m looking for ‘slower, thoughtful, deeply’ for the next act,” Wiest said of what’s ahead.
Robert Letson, chief executive officer of South Peninsula Hospital, said Wiest has played a significant role at the hospital, clinic and emergency room.
“He contributed to high quality care, was a pleasure to work with, and the patients always had wonderful things to say about him. We were fortunate to have him practice here and he will be missed by many,” said Letson, adding that recruitment to fill the void Wiest’s retirement creates is underway.
Following in the footsteps of his father Hiram List Wiest, who was vice chairman of the Department of Family Community Medicine at Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center, Wiest graduated with a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1978, with the help of a U.S. Public Health Service scholarship. He completed a three-year family practice training program at Mercy Medical Center in Denver, Colo. Short, six-week assignments in Alaska helped shape his future.
“When it was time to pick a place to fulfill my two-year scholarship obligation, it was a no-brainer,” said Wiest, whose first posting was St. Paul Island, a 40-square-mile island in the Bering Sea. The second year of his scholarship obligation was in Juneau.
While attending an obstetrics and gynecology conference in Anchorage, Wiest met Guilia Tortora, who came to Homer in 1994 to practice family medicine.
The two began a long-distance relationship and in 1998, six weeks before their son Daniel was born, Wiest moved to Homer and joined Tortora and doctors Bill Bell and Paul Eneboe at Homer Medical Center. He also immersed himself in his new community.
“It was important to me to be part of my son’s growing up, so I plunged into Cub Scouts, youth sports and tried to be part of what was going on in my son’s life,” he said. “I still get tickled when I see kids playing high school sports and I coached them back in the day.”
Eneboe, who opened Homer Medical in 1967, said Wiest proved a good fit for Homer.
“From the moment he came, he was involved in South Peninsula Hospital’s medical staff, the hospital and the governance of the staff. He was always a voice of reason and calmness and compassion and common sense. He will be really missed in that role,” said Eneboe. “He’s an excellent, excellent physician. He’s very careful, very thorough, very kind. And he loves his camping and skiing and is a great runner. He’s just a good Alaskan.”
Bell, who joined the center full-time in 1981, also praised Wiest.
“He was a very good physician for here. Really thoughtful, listens to people and spends a lot of time thinking about what’s going on with people,” he said.
The clinic and the medical field have grown since Wiest’s arrival. Homer Medical Center currently has 11,000 patient charts, including individuals who receive treatment at more than one location. Construction is due to begin in April to double the center’s footprint.
“I think about the changes Randy and I have seen. New antibiotics. Miraculous surgeries. Homer has CT scan and MRI machines. These are things that were inconceivable 30 years ago,” Bell said, adding that patients’ expect the same care here as they would in Seattle. “It’s not a bad expectation, but it’s hard to meet.”
Add administrative demands and new technology that “takes you away from real patient care” and Wiest said it was time for a change.
“I’m a slow medicine guy and enjoy understanding people and the narrative of their lives. Now there isn’t as much time for that, so I felt like the time was right. And I wanted to take retirement at a time when I could still enjoy vigorous outdoor activity,” he said.
On April 1, Wiest will box up his touring bike and travel gear. On April 2 he’ll fly to Los Angeles and, along with two friends, begin pedaling from Santa Monica, Calif., to Washington, D.C. Distance: 3,500-4,000 miles depending on weather and route. Anticipated finish time: two months.
After the bike ride, Wiest plans to return to Homer, remain involved in the community and perhaps fill in for vacationing medical providers.
“It’s been my privilege to be entrusted with confidence and invited into people’s lives in such an intimate way. It has been a privilege and an honor,” he said.
McKibben Jackinsky is a freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.