Leaving a legacy

Beloved Chico kid’s doctor honored amid concerns over the future of local pediatrics

Dr. Pat Tedford speaks to nurse Erica Baylor in his East Avenue office.

Dr. Pat Tedford speaks to nurse Erica Baylor in his East Avenue office.

Photo by John Domogma

When Enloe Medical Center recognized Dr. Pat Tedford with the hospital’s Physician Legacy Award last month, colleagues not only spotlighted what he has meant to pediatrics in Chico for the previous 40 years, but also what his presence—and inevitable absence—means moving forward.

After all, Tedford just turned 71, and while he has no plans to retire at this time, no one can see the future.

In just the last year, Chico lost four pediatricians: Craig Corp, Morgan Jenkins, Robert Stanley and Natalie Vogel. Corp, Jenkins and Vogel moved away; Stanley had a personal issue that forced him to close his office around this time last year.

The situation with Stanley holds particular resonance. He’s a former partner of Tedford’s—and of Dr. James Wood, who brought Tedford to town in 1975—and at the time he stopped working, he had approximately 2,000 patients in his practice. Parents suddenly needed to find a new provider of primary care for their children in an area already short on options.

“That was a wake-up call for all of us,” Tedford told the CN&R during a recent after-hours conversation in his East Avenue office. “If you’re not going to wake up for that, you’re not going to wake up …”

Chico has eight pediatricians in private practice. Northern Valley Indian Health and Ampla Health operate clinics with pediatrics, while Enloe (besides hospital coverage) contracts with a part-time pediatrician for its Prompt Care center.

Tedford has the largest private pediatric practice in Chico, with over 6,000 active patients—more than double the local average.

Wood has one of the smallest, around 800 patients; he spends only two days a week in the office in order to accommodate medical directorships (at a children’s health center and the county’s special-needs schools).

Still, when Stanley’s practice closed, Wood’s practice accepted over 150 of those families, some of which had multiple children.

He has one word to describe the prospect of Chico without Tedford practicing: “Tragedy.”

Wood, recipient of the Physician Legacy Award in 2005, turns 75 in April. He remains an active mountaineer—often accompanied by another local pediatrician, Paul Wassermann, who’s also in his golden years.

“I’m not going to keep kicking over here [forever],” Wood said in his office on Rio Lindo Avenue. “As long as my legs are working, there are more mountains to climb, and the clock is ticking.”

The community’s need, along with his love of medicine, keeps Tedford going.

Like Wood, he has attempted to augment Enloe’s continual efforts at physician recruitment by seeking out his own successor. Unsuccessful on that front, Tedford remains in business by himself, seeing patients at his own brisk pace and showing no indications of slowing down.

“There’s a responsibility you feel to patients,” Tedford said. “It isn’t just someone walking into a bank; they become part of a team, part of a family—and, yes, you do feel a responsibility of what’s going to happen to these folks later on.

“I think we’re … in tremendous flux. There’s just a bunch of change going on, and I’m thinking it will lend itself to my stepping aside in a few years, in terms of recruiting people.

“I’m not going to close the door, lock it up and leave; that’s not my style. As long as God allows me to, I’ll keep going.”

Tedford never has been tempted to leave Chico, ever since arriving four decades ago, family in tow, straight from his Air Force service in Hawaii.

He met Wood during their pediatric residencies in Los Angeles; in fact, they had adjoining apartments in the Children’s Hospital housing facility, where their families would split babysitting duties. Wood also overlapped with Tedford’s older brother, Jim, whom Pat succeeded as chief resident.

The Tedford brothers had followed in the footsteps of their father, a general practitioner in L.A. for 45 years. Jim joined a pediatrics practice in the San Luis Obispo area, where he’s remained to this day, so Wood wasn’t certain he’d convince his friend Pat to choose the North State over the North Coast.

Yet, when he and wife Shelley found Chico to be “exactly what we wanted,” Tedford joined Wood in private practice. Stanley joined them several years later. In the mid-’80s, they entered the umbrella of a larger organization, Chico Medical Group.

By the early ’90s, though, they’d split off into independent offices.

“This is a pretty antiquated way of practicing,” Tedford said. “There are not a lot of places that have private practices anymore; it’s almost all big groups. This has just fit me fine, to kind of dictate your own terms.

“Then to get acknowledged with a legacy award that you made all these decisions—there are so many ways to do it, and you made your own way—is really nice.”

Nominations for Tedford for the Physician Legacy Award include praise such as “many children and adults in this community owe their health and wellness to him.” Tedford, honored at Enloe’s general medical staff meeting Dec. 15, is on his third generation of patients.

The Facebook announcement of the award has drawn over 40,000 views, 1,450 likes and 280 comments (all positive), according to the communications department at Enloe. Along with maintaining his practice, Tedford has served as chair of the hospital’s pediatrics department, medical ethics committee and patient care committee.

“When people are talking about the legacy you leave, it’s the way you’ve practiced for years,” he said. “[The award] made me reflect a lot … I said in my acceptance that I was humbled, proud, blessed, honored, but mostly grateful.”

Gratitude extends to wife, family, staff and colleagues. As for his source of pride, Tedford needed a few moments of thought before answering.

“I think the vast majority of days I was present. I have a talent for being here and giving people the most attention and highest quality of care that we can give and treating them the way I’d like to be treated. I’m proud of that.”

That’s a legacy.