Monday, May 6, 2013

Healthcare for Local People

The other day, in the Shitada district of Sanjo City, I had a drink with Dr. Mikio Kitazawa and his son, Jiro Okuyama, a dentist, at a restaurant in the Iiyuratei Hot Spring. The spa is located next to one of the doctor’s 12 hospital, nursery schools and senior care facilities where he is both the healthcare corporation director and a doctor.
Physician Kitazawa is a happy-natured self-made man. His main interest is medical care for the aged in rural areas. However, when he was a younger man, he studied to become a Buddhist priest and what he learned during that period influences him still.
His studies lead him to believe that a doctor’s job is not simply to treat ailments, but to holistically help his patients live longer and happier lives and, when the time comes, to provide them with the means to have a peaceful death.
To this end, he and his family moved from the more metropolitan central Sanjo area to the depopulated Shitada Village 16 years ago to assume the weighty responsibility of providing health care to this region’s mostly aging population. Seeing a need, he built eleven of his facilities in the immediate area and one in Sakae District in Sanjo City. 
He runs hospitals with departments of internal medicine and psychiatry, special nursing homes for the aged and care support facilities, all of which had long been requested by the local residents. However, he has not grown complacent. In April, his medical corporation established the Jiro Dental Clinic run by his son.
Jiro too has learned from his father’s philosophies. He told me that many of his patients rarely ventured into the city and many of them had not been to see a dentist in 20 years or more and he added that he felt his hard work in setting up the clinic had been rewarded when he heard his patients tell him that they were now able to more fully enjoy eating.
All in all, while the doctor has created hundreds of jobs and has greatly contributed to the economy, he told me that he feels happiest when he is out talking with the locals, making sure that they are doing okay and satisfied with their lives. So, in his free time, he likes to take strolls out into the fields to see how his patients where they live and work. “A rural life,” he said, “is the life for me.”