A doctor comes to Yubari with the courage to dream

by Kanako Takahara

YUBARI, Hokkaido — Since Yubari’s financial collapse came to light last June, many residents have decided to jump from the sinking ship and seek more prosperous environs elsewhere.

Not so Dr. Tomohiko Murakami, 45, who is well-known for his activities in preventive medicine.

A native of Utanobori in northern Hokkaido, Murakami came to work at Yubari City Hospital in late December. This was after an outside consultant in September judged that the hospital was effectively bankrupt with debts of nearly 5 billion yen.

Since then, the hospital’s president and another senior doctor have quit, leaving only two doctors and about 100 staff in Yubari’s only city-run general hospital.

“No doctor would want to work in a city that went bankrupt,” Murakami said. “But I thought I could make the hospital a model of medical institutions in the aging society.”

With the quality of welfare services in Yubari expected to fall off dramatically under a city financial reconstruction plan that takes effect in April, Murakami is now regarded as something of a savior.

Due to the hospital’s financial woes, residents expected it to close down. But Murakami, only in Yubari for two months, formed a medical corporation called Yubari Kibo no Mori (Yubari Forest of Hope) so he can take over operating the hospital and keep its doors open.

Starting in April, the 170-bed facility will become a private clinic headed by Murakami, with 19 beds for general needs and another 40 for elderly patients.

The city is expected to shoulder the hospital’s 5 billion yen debt. Even so, Murakami is starting from scratch, recruiting physicians and taking out loans to get the clinic up and running.

“The biggest sales point is that doctors can study how to deal with the aging society,” Murakami said. “It will definitely be a key task in Japan’s future.”

The clinic will feature internal medicine, surgery, plastic surgery, rehabilitation, pediatrics and psychiatry, which Murakami says will cover 90 percent of Yubari’s medical needs.

As a general physician and a designated primary care doctor, he is planning to shift to a Western-style medical system where patients see a general practitioner for mild cases and a specialist for more serious problems.

Some residents, however, are worried that a downsized clinic will lead to a dropoff in the quality of medical care. Murakami counters that good health isn’t guaranteed by living near a big hospital.

He said the key in the graying society is placing greater importance on preventive medicine by educating people on the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet.

“It’s about avoiding being sick in the first place,” he said. “That will reduce the cost of medical expenses.”

Murakami’s goals go beyond operating a medical facility. He hopes to transform the clinic into a multipurpose facility where youngsters can interact with older generations.

To generate profit, he hopes to someday utilize the unused portion of the old hospital for such facilities as a day-care center, convenience store and hot spring spa, and employ both young and elderly people.

“This clinic will be a safe place for a day-care center with doctors and nurses and even with a convenience store,” he said. “I want to create a stronger community network than just treating people here.”

See related stories:
Yubari tries downsizing to solve fiscal crisis
Ministry takes charge of bankrupt city