A Red Deer family doctor will soon retire after a 52-year career that included house calls — even during the pandemic.
Dr. Joseph Hopfner, of Waskasoo Medical Clinic (formerly the Associate Medical Clinic), said in recent years he’s probably made a house call about once a month.
“We used to do it quite a bit more back in the 70s. We still do some occasionally for certainly people who are home-bound and it’s very, very difficult to get out. It’s sometimes easier for us to go there,” said Dr. Hopfner, 76, who moved to Red Deer in 1970.
The physician had considered retiring last year, but decided to keep working through the pandemic.
Rochelle Callaway, a long-time patient, recalled how Hopfner came to her home a couple of times to help her daughter who had pneumonia and croup when she was young, and suffered from chronic asthma and allergies.
Once her daughter was very sick, and her son was also ill, she couldn’t leave the house, so Hopfner visited her family.
“He pretty well saved my daughter’s life. He’s been a fabulous doctor,” Callaway said.
“Every time I’ve ever been to him with my family he’s always been right on with his diagnosis and treatment.”
Years later when Callaway returned to Red Deer and couldn’t find a family doctor, she heard that Hopfner was still practising.
“I called and he took me back as a client. It was like seeing an old friend.”
Hopfner, who retires Dec. 31, said doctors at his clinic have practised more traditional-style family medicine where they tend to spend more time with patients, which is appreciated.
“To me the joy of family practice is actually getting to know the people and the families, seeing them over time.”
It also means being by their side during the difficulties they face, he said.
“I’ve learned a lot from them. It’s amazing, the resilience of patients. How people, when faced with an illness or problem, how well they adapt and accept it. The vast majority come to terms with the problems that life deals you.”
Hopfner, who is probably the longest serving doctor right now in Red Deer, said the health care system has changed dramatically in the city since he arrived. Family doctors used to help out at the old hospital where there were only a few specialists on staff, and no full-time emergency department doctors.
“Our work was quite different then. I probably spent half my time in hospital and the other half in the office.
“Going to the hospital, you’d learn a lot just by interacting with other doctors and more seriously ill patients. That helps your medical knowledge just as much as the reading does, even more.”
He said now that Red Deer’s hospital provides critical care for all of central Alberta, the hospital is not big enough, and needs more cardiac services. But the hospital community has done an excellent job looking after COVID-19 patients with limited resources.
Seniors facilities have also done well compared to other areas of Canada. But COVID will likely remain an annual problem like the flu. Hopefully people who refuse to be vaccinated change their minds, he said.
“Some infections do burn themselves out over a few years. Hopefully that will happen, but the way the variants are coming along I expect we’ll be living with it for awhile.”
Hopfner graduated medical school in Manitoba in 1968 before becoming an intern in Calgary. His father-in-law was the manager of the Bank of Nova Scotia in Red Deer so Hopfner and his family would visit and he liked what he saw.
Hopfner still lives in the same house where he and his wife Barbara, who died in 2020, raised their family and he plans to remain in Red Deer.
“It’s been a good career and Red Deer has been a good choice. I might do a little bit of travelling. The only trouble with Alberta is winter is too long here.”
During his career, Hopfner was a member of local hospital committees, a medical examiner and coroner for about 30 years, and served with the College of Physicians and Surgeons for six years.