Second female physician to leave health center

Dr. Laurel Kuehl, a medical doctor at the Vashon Health Center, will leave the practice later this month to become an administrator at another health care organization.

Dr. Laurel Kuehl, a medical doctor at the Vashon Health Center, will leave the practice later this month to become an administrator at another health care organization.

The 48-year-old physician has worked at the health center more than a decade, though over the past five years, she spent only one day a week at the clinic.

Still, her departure will leave a hole at the busy clinic, part of the regional Highline Medical Group, especially in the wake of Dr. Kim Farrell’s resignation in January. The two women — the only female physicians at the health center — saw the vast majority of the women patients at the clinic, said Rita Cannell, manager of the health center.

What’s more, the physician who was to replace Farrell for four to six months — Dr. Melissa Negretti, a Highline doctor who lives in North Seattle — was reassigned to a different Highline clinic a few weeks ago, only a month after her arrival, Cannell said.

Kuehl’s departure, coming as it does right after Farrell’s resignation and Negretti’s reassignment, “is a very difficult loss,” Cannell said. Many of Farrell’s patients wanted to transfer to Kuehl.

“We will not be able to accommodate those female patients who want to see a female MD,” Cannell said.

The clinic, however, does employ Stephanie Lee, a physician’s assistant who specializes in women’s health care. “She’s wonderful,” Cannell said.

The island is also home to Fulton Family Medicine, owned by Dr. Gail Fulton and staffed by two female nurse practitioners, and the Vashon Women’s Health Center, owned by nurse practitioner Kimberly Scheer.

Kuehl, a Vashon resident and the mother of two, initially worked full-time at the health center. But the hours were long and made family life difficult, so she reduced to one day a week and began picking up part-time jobs at other clinics — much like being a substitute teacher, she said. She also worked as the medical director at Vashon Community Care, a position she’s leaving as well.

Kuehl, who went to medical school at the University of Washington, said she’s enjoyed the Vashon Health Center.

The clinic, she said, “is a great place, with hard-working, dedicated practitioners, staff and management. Everyone works hard and cares a lot about the mission of providing great health care to the people of Vashon.”

The Burien-based High-line Medical Center — which includes a 154-bed acute care hospital, a 115-bed specialty center and more than 20 clinics, most of them in the West Seattle-Burien region — is poised to merge with the much larger Franciscan Health System. But Kuehl said her departure, like Farrell’s, has nothing to do with the merger.

In fact, she said, she believes being a part of the Franciscan system will help the Vashon-based clinic. “It’s a bigger system, and that brings more resources,” she said.

The opportunity to work in medical administration in Seattle, she said, was a good one. The timing of her departure, she added, “is totally coincidental.”

Replacing Farrell and Kuehl will likely prove difficult, however, coming at a time when primary care doctors are in high demand and the pressures on such doctors are only increasing. Since Farrell’s departure in early January, the Highline Medical Group has been advertising for a new doctor. So far, Cannell said, the medical organization has not forwarded a single application to the Vashon clinic.

“I wish I could say we had some good applicants. … As of yet, we’ve gotten nothing,” Cannell said.