Medical Samaritan: Dr. William (Bill) Smith

-by Emily Akin

Dr. William A. (Bill) Smith, Jr., of Fulton is a medical doctor who retired twice from the U. S. Army and once from his private practice. You might say he’s had trouble staying retired. Now, he’s a volunteer, seeing patients part-time at the Good Samaritan Health and Wellness Center and taking active part in a local emergency preparedness group.

Dr. Smith is married to Ann Mahan, a Fulton native whose family owned and operated the Fulton Daily Leader for many years. Bill grew up in McKenzie, Tennessee, where his father taught at Bethel College. His family later moved to Murray, Kentucky, and he finished high school there. After college, Smith attended medical school at the University of Kentucky. He then went into the U. S. Army, where his specialty was neurology and internal medicine. He later transferred to the Air Force and served in the first Persian Gulf War, leaving the service in 1992.

After the first military retirement, Smith took more training in internal medicine before moving to Fulton to set up private practice. After the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, he volunteered to go back into the Army (2002). Based at Fort Campbell, he was close enough to come home often, so Ann did not move with him. Smith was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan during this time.

While in Iraq, Dr. Smith treated many dignitaries in the Iraqi government. You may have heard that Smith was Saddam Hussein’s doctor. There is some truth to that. During his second Iraq tour, he served at a hospital in Baghdad that was built and equipped for the Iraqi Republican Guard. When the Americans moved in, they converted it into a combat support facility. Saddam Hussein was captured and held in a nearby prison. Prison officials brought him to the hospital for treatment because they thought he had kidney failure. Dr. Smith was assigned to treat him. “He was just dehydrated, but the Colonel wanted to put him in intensive care unit for a while, so I did,” Smith said.

Dr. Smith’s time in Iraq was not without humor. One of the government officials he treated was the Minister of Public Integrity. The government was so corrupt that a full-time watchdog was required. The MPI often came to Dr. Smith with stress-related symptoms. Once Smith returned to Fort Campbell, he noticed in the Army newspaper that the MPI had been arrested for corrupt practices himself.

In 2012, Smith retired from the army for good and returned to Fulton. In his medical practice, he values personal interaction with patients. He didn’t like the increasing emphasis on data processing and record-keeping. He said the ideal doctor-patient relationship consists of the patient talking and the doctor listing while observing the patient. “Better records do not equal better care,” he said. Once he retired from private practice, Dr. Smith couldn’t disconnect entirely, so he became involved in organizing The Good Samaritan Health and Wellness Center.

Good Samaritan provides a primary medical care clinic for the working uninsured. It was the brain-child of Rev. Bill Tate, former pastor of First United Methodist Church in Fulton. He knew of many people with jobs who did not qualify for government health care. And, they didn’t have insurance through their work. Dr. Smith was part of a group from the church and community who set up a non-profit organization to get the clinic started. In 2012, after two years of meetings and paperwork, the clinic opened at 209 West State Line Road in South Fulton.

The center’s staff, all volunteers, includes Dr. Smith, a nurse practitioner, a physician’s assistant, and support staff of all kinds. Patients must have no insurance and must be working. “We serve people who have lost jobs and thus their insurance,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a temporary situation.” It is not a free clinic. They operate entirely on donations and the support of several local churches. In the past, public fund-raisers, such as the one presented by Elvis impersonator Cesar Mora, have helped support the center. Patients are expected to make donations. Asked what the center needs now, Dr. Smith said “We need volunteers, not just medical staff. We can use support staff.” He said Good Samaritan accepts in-kind donations as well as monetary gifts. The center has a website at http://www.gs-center.org/.

Dr. Smith was forced to take an unplanned break recently. He and Ann don’t do everything together, but they did each break a leg last summer. First, Ann fell on the stairs, breaking her femur. After she came home from rehab, Bill tripped on the same steps and broke his kneecap. “We were overwhelmed with kindness,” he said. Friends and neighbors drove them around, brought food, and helped them with house-keeping duties. But, he’s back in action now, seeing patients at the center and getting back to normal activities in the community and his church.