By Debbie Adams
Dr. Henry Ivey retired in August after practicing medicine in Vinton for 44 years. He and Dr. Daniel Jones founded Parkway Physicians on Maple Street in 1977. Dr. Randall Rhea, a colleague at what has now become Carilion Clinic Family Medicine–Vinton, says Ivey “started it all.”
Ivey was born in Newport News. His father was an aeronautical engineer and both parents worked for NASA at Langley. He earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth in 1970. In 1974 he completed his medical degree from the Medical College of Virginia (at Virginia Commonwealth University) and then his residency in Family Medicine at MCV in 1977.
Ivey and Jones were in the same class at MCV and decided to open a joint practice in Vinton. At the time, there were only two physicians in town—Dr. John Yost and Dr. Gene Clapsaddle—who Ivey says were supportive and graciously welcomed the new practice to Vinton.
They had considered other locations, including Fincastle, but decided the small community of Vinton was “a good fit, a good place for a family practice.” Their newly constructed building on Maple opened on July 1, 1977. They chose the name Parkway Physicians for obvious reasons— proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
When the practice opened, Ivey and Jones were the only two physicians, with two employees— one shared nurse and someone in the front office—and “on call” virtually every other night.
Ivey says they weren’t sure how long it would take them to “just break even,” but they did in their third month and were able to hire more staff. Since then, the practice has grown by leaps and bounds.
The conversation in Vinton became not “Who’s your doctor?” but “Who’s your doctor at Parkway Physicians?”
Parkway Physicians continued to grow until the practice was bursting at the seams, serving not only patients from Vinton, but from across the region.
In 1996, planning began with Carilion for the Carilion Clinic Family Medicine in Vinton, which opened on Pollard Street in July 2002, 25 years after the opening of Parkway Physicians. It has continued to grow, adding physicians, a physician assistant, a nurse practitioner, nurses, lab technicians, and more office staff.
Ivey and his wife Susan were high school sweethearts and “went steady” during their junior year. Unfortunately, her father was a pharmacist and moved the family across country to New Mexico. They managed to keep in touch. In fact, he and his family drove out West to visit. They were married between their junior and senior years in college and recently celebrated their 52nd anniversary.
The Iveys lived in Falling Creek in Vinton for many years and raised three daughters—Rebecca, Sara, and Jessica—who attended Vinton schools—Herman L. Horn Elementary, William Byrd Middle, and William Byrd High School. Ivey says at one time, they had a daughter in each school. The family has been active in the community, especially the schools, where Dr. Ivey served as president of the Herman L. Horn PTA.
They remained in Vinton until his youngest daughter was a senior in high school and then moved to South Roanoke to be near Roanoke Memorial Hospital to accommodate “on call” demands. Ivey says it was common to be called to the emergency room in the middle of the night, “hop in the car” and drive to the hospital, return home to Vinton, only to hear his beeper go off again.
For most of his years as a physician, Ivey had hospital privileges which allowed him to follow and treat his patients when they were admitted to the hospital, consult with specialists, and manage patient care. Times have changed and hospitals now have their own in-house physicians who take over patient care once they are admitted. Ivey says that can diminish the patient/physician relationship but has become the trend with younger doctors who value sleeping through the night.
Relationships are the reason Dr. Ivey chose Family Medicine as his field. In medical school, students rotate through specialty areas—internal medicine, obstetrics, pediatrics, geriatrics, family medicine, and others. While he “loved all of it,” he liked family medicine the most and the rotation experience “solidified his interest.”
In family medicine, “You get to see everyone from babies to the elderly, both men and women. You get close to patients and develop an ongoing relationship. You can follow patients their entire lives from when they are nursery babies, to teens getting sports physicals, through their senior years.”
He says some of his patients have been with him over 40 years—over all the years of his practice. Some of his patient population has aged with him. Many of those longtime patients have brought generations of their families to the practice as well.
“You are able to do a better job taking care of patients if you have worked with them for years,” Ivey says. “You know their medical history; you learn the medical conditions that run in their families—if their dad had colon cancer, their mom had diabetes—you can be on the lookout for those conditions.”
He has been one of those rare physicians who enjoys making house calls, when it’s in the best interests of his patient.
Ivey says although medicine has changed in some ways over his 44 years in practice, “the patient/doctor relationship has remained the same; the interactions with people haven’t changed.”
What has changed drastically are technology and the business side of practicing medicine. Ivey says that when he and Dr. Jones first opened Parkway Physicians business was simple, “everything was a charge of $15, from strep throat to a heart attack.”
Changes in Medicare and insurance regulations and their demands for data have drastically changed medicine, adding time-consuming and complex documentation. In the past few years, he has found himself spending an increasing number of hours on documentation and paperwork, due to the “computerization of medicine.”
As for why he has decided to retire now, Ivey, soon to celebrate his 73rd birthday, says he kept delaying the date. He “almost retired a couple of years ago,” but then the pandemic struck. In recent months when the COVID crisis seemed to be winding down, he decided “it was a good time to go.”
He and his wife plan to catch up with their seven grandchildren. They weren’t able to see them as much during the months of COVID when travel was restricted. Ivey enjoys running, hiking, and taking the grandkids rafting and kayaking on the James. His wife has a few projects in mind for him and he might “spend some time at the free clinic.”
Dr. Elaine Renick will be taking over most of his patients. She saw 18 patients her first day on the job. The person who introduced them warned her that she was “following a legend.”
Ivey says they have recruited several excellent physicians to the practice—“real catches”— who enjoy that sense of closeness to patients that a family medicine practice allows.
While Dr. Ivey says that his legacy is actually the legacy of Parkway Physicians and Carilion Clinic Family Medicine, he feels that they have “established a really good office in Vinton and provided good service to the patients there. If you work hard and do a good job, people will find you. Those patients will continue to find our practice a good resource for themselves and their families in the years ahead. That will continue. Our practice was built to last.”