Dr. Olu Sangodeyi is well-versed in the art of relieving burdens. Now, he is hoping to do not only that, but to extend a legacy.
The general surgeon treating conditions for patients both in southern West Virginia and through missions to places like his native Nigeria subscribes to the World Health Organization definition of health care: the state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.
He also holds that everyone, here and abroad, is deserving of the benefits of quality health care.
“Health is a fundamental human right,” he said.
Whether extending a trained hand locally or traveling to an area of need in another country as part of his nonprofit organization World Health Mission, Sangodeyi finds the appreciation expressed by those he assists the most rewarding.
“When you set up a free clinic in Nigeria, you don’t have to advertise. People show up … and they are very grateful,” he said. The care he and his team — including Beckley vascular surgeon Dr. Herbert Oye — provided on their recent February trip to West Africa included surgeries using local anesthesia, mostly benign tumor removal, vein surgery and hernia repairs.
The procedures were performed in remote and rudimentary spaces with limited equipment and supplies. While the team donated much-needed medical equipment, medical books and pharmaceuticals, they identified immediate needs stateside clinics might take for granted — like surgical gowns, drapes, sutures and anesthesia and X-ray machines.
“The mission was mainly exploratory,” Sangodeyi said, “but WHM intends to continue to assist Salem Clinic and Maternity in all aspects of its operation.”
By contrast back in the United States, Dr. Sangodeyi is privileged to practice with the best technology; he is skilled at the minimally invasive, maximally high-tech surgery at Raleigh General Hospital — the DaVinci method — performing robotic-assisted cholecystectomies, or surgeries to remove diseased gallbladders.
Now, Sangodeyi is charged with assembling an elite group trained to fill the health care gaps of southern West Virginia communities. He is rebuilding the former Med-Surg Group, once 28 physicians strong in its prime. Sangodeyi recently purchased the business from founder Dr. Rouzbeh Parsi’s estate.
In re-establishing a large multi-specialty practice, the physician faces cultural foes of diabetes and heart disease, cigarette smoking and a drug abuse epidemic contributing to dismal life expectancies — in some locations matching those of Third World countries.
“I’d like to change that,” he put simply.
Sangodeyi completed medical school at the University of Ibadan, a prestigious Nigerian school. He also attended the University of London and came to the United States in 1974 for his general surgery training at Pittsburgh’s Allegheny General. Sangodeyi also finished a fellowship in pediatric surgery in Denver.
It was Dr. Parsi who first invited him to join Med-Surg in 2009, where he had worked as part of the group until assuming ownership March 2014.
Upon the 2012 death of Dr. Parsi, Sangodeyi expressed an obligation to assume and carry on the commitment of care to rural communities demonstrated by the Parsi family, including Dr. Parsi’s wife, Mrs. Shahin, and son, Vandad.
“I saw that the group had the potential to re-grow and I’ve personally always liked challenges.”
Having been a close friend of Parsi, Sangodeyi said he felt it was only fitting that he should rise to the call of continuing a mission — this one not abroad, but literally in his backyard.
As CEO of the new Med-Surg, the first need he has assessed is the absence of a first-baseman to health care — the primary care physician. Secondly, he is seeking to acquire those trained in the most inaccessible medical specialties.
“We have some excellent doctors and specialists here, but they are overwhelmed,” Sangodeyi stated. “Within one year, we would like to add three primary care physicians. We want to recruit top-notch physicians in various specialties, but it is not as easy to practice medicine anymore with the regulations and legal issues.”
The tough times brought about by a formerly flaccid economy and the uncertain landscape of health care limited the pool of medical talent and increased competition from medical groups across the nation attempting to cherry-pick from those who did pursue medicine.
“These are challenges I will personally have to face. A lot of my personal finances are going into rebuilding this group, but my top priorities for recruiting are primary care doctors, internists and specialties where we’re lacking — like endocrinology and orthopedics.”
What Med-Surg does have in the area of hard-to-find physicians is an infectious disease specialist, Dr. Zonaira Gul.
“We are very lucky to have her,” he said.
The group presently has three offices, in Beckley, Oak Hill and Fayetteville.
Sangodeyi has also hired family nurse practitioner Jenine Ward to focus on primary care at present, treating patients for everyday illnesses and managing their chronic conditions.
Sangodeyi himself, due in part to his broad training, has acted as primary care physician to existing patients upon their expressed need and by request, but he doesn’t plan on working with a skeleton crew for long. To help fulfill his vision for the group, Sangodeyi has also appointed Sharon Smith as chief operating official. Smith, RN, MA, Ph.D., resides in Shady Spring. She was the principal of Fayette County Schools and also a health care case manager in West Virginia.
Smith’s position will involve coordinating and overseeing the day-to-day activities of Med-Surg Group.
Aside from aggressive recruitment efforts, another important component to the challenge for Sangodeyi and staff is to navigate patients through the uncharted waters of the new health care delivery system.
“We have to realize there will always be changes — that is one assurance in life. We will need to be aware of the legislative changes, of what is required and how we can mitigate and follow rules. Then, we have to educate our patients about what is going on.”
Apart from curative medicine, Sangodeyi’s vision includes emphasizing preventative care.
“There are many persons whose death could’ve been prevented through good health behaviors,” Sangodeyi said. “There is so much obesity in our area and a lot of drug and alcohol abuse. Med-Surg will spearhead efforts in appropriate ways to cooperate with health care providers and reduce these incidences. I want Med-Surg to interact with the community to reduce morbidity and mortality, in addition to providing good curative care.”
Although the task of developing a new medical group practice and of maintaining his regular patients keeps him busy, Sangodeyi said he thoroughly enjoys living in West Virginia and believes other quality physician prospects will want to live and practice here, too.
“Once you are here, you find how the people are very friendly. We have our health problems, but most doctors hate to be lazy. They want to practice. West Virginia is a hidden gem. I’ve never regretted coming here.”
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