If the sentence, “Dr. Nabers returns to Red Bay to practice medicine,” seems familiar, that’s because it is.
Three decades (technically 29 years and one month) after his father, Dr. Jim Nabers, returned to his hometown to serve on the staff of Red Bay Hospital, Dr. Steven Nabers, Jim’s son, is set to do exactly the same thing. Steven has been moonlighting on weekends at Red Bay Hospital for about a year and in a few weeks will officially be joining the staff of Red Bay Hospital July 1. He currently is completing his three-year residency in Jackson, Tenn.
There are many similarities between the paths taken by the elder and the son, and the return is also similar, it’s hard not to see how vividly history is repeating itself – and how another chapter in a long line of the family’s connection to Red Bay’s history is about to begin.
Just like his father, Steven has been away from Red Bay for 11 years. Dr. Jim Nabers attended Northwest Community College prior to heading to medical school in Kansas City. He returned to the Birmingham area and after working with the staff of Caraway Medical Center, Jim was offered a contract to stay. The lure was strong, too, given Birmingham’s size, its proximity to Tuscaloosa (for Alabama athletics), and everything the city could offer that a small town can’t. However, coming from a family with such deep historic roots tied to the community’s founding, Jim knew Caraway wasn’t where he needed to be. In 1993, he joined the staff at Red Bay Hospital and has practicing here since.
“My parents and my grandparents were here,” Jim said. “My grandparents were alive the day we moved into that white house that Steven will be moving into.”
Steven’s work in Jackson wasn’t just happenstance. When Jim returned to Red Bay, he went into practice with Dr. Steve Senter and his father, Jack. Jackson was where Steve did his residency, he had great training and spoke well of it. So, Jim steered Steven that direction and the younger Nabers loved it.
The decision to leave Jackson, at a 600-bed hospital where Steven is well liked and which could offer more financially than Red Bay Hospital can, was not easy – just as leaving Birmingham wasn’t easy for Jim – but then again, it was. And Steven’s fiancé, Taylor, is from Jackson and currently works there as well. The need in Red Bay is even greater, though, and that sense of obligation to his community and link to his family is everything. Steven is close to his grandparents just as Jim was to his. Still, there was the chance he might choose a different path.
“Yes, and no,” Steven said, when asked whether, when younger, he saw himself returning to practice medicine in Red Bay. “Whenever you’re finishing up high school you’re always thinking, ‘I’m going to get away from home,’ but I noticed the older I got and grew more into my career, the more I enjoyed coming home and I saw all the benefits and advantages and the need in the community.”
The need here was the biggest draw for Steven. Dr. Raynard Fabianke is currently the only doctor on staff at the hospital, though Dr. Jim has rejoined the staff there primarily to help Steven. Additionally, the potential for growth and new opportunities to serve the medical needs of the community have certainly caught Steven’s eye. That’s not to say there weren’t opportunities in Jackson; there were. Here, though, Steven saw something else Jackson couldn’t offer.
“I think it was during my time that I moonlighted and worked here on the side during residency, it was the simple gratification of coming home and seeing people I knew and hadn’t seen in a while,” Steven said. “And I just felt like the people appreciated things more and it was more of a bond with people in a community and to me that was special.”
New path on a familiar trail
It’s going to be a busy next few months for Steven. He’ll officially begin working with Red Bay Hospital in July. He’ll be moving into his great-grandparent’s homeplace, and then he and Taylor will be getting married in October.
For Jim, the opportunity to work alongside his son, whose face has never been a stranger in Jim’s clinic or the hospital, is something for which he is greatly excited.
“He grew up in my clinic,” Jim said. “He did filing at my clinic. He would come after school every day and put the notes in the paper charts and file them. And when I used to work the ER a lot when he was two or three years old, he would want to spend the night with me. So, he would sleep with me in the call room at the back of the hospital. And when I would get up to go to the ER, I would tell him I’d be right back, but he would say, ‘don’t leave me.’ And then there he would come walking down the hallway. All the nurses would pick at him. I mean it’s literally like this hospital is coming home for him because he grew up here. He spent many a night as a child sleeping back there in the call room, and sitting up at the nurse’s station and it was not uncommon 25 years ago to see him with all the nurses up there. They brought in a little chair for him to sit in. All he ever really knew was the medical clinic and the hospital.”
When Steven isn’t working shifts in the ER he will be in Jim’s clinic, working to build his own practice. He has had a lot of training in sports medicine and worked with the program in Jackson. He also has an eye on bringing new opportunities for healthcare to Red Bay Hospital and hopes to be able to bring changes that will help area residents be able to stay here for some treatments and checkups instead of having to travel to the Shoals or even to Huntsville. Steven said he has discussed these ideas with Red Bay Hospital leadership, and there is excitement and support for the vision he has for the future of healthcare here.
“There is a whole lot of untapped potential for healthcare in our community,” Steven said. “Whenever you work in different types of clinics, outpatient, and inpatient, there is so much more care you can provide in a hospital setting than in a clinic because you have so much more access to things and there is more urgency. When we have our own hospital in our town it is my hope and goal that the patients can seek more healthcare here than out of town. There are more things we can offer, reasonably, in Red Bay, so we can keep more of our care local and offer more availability to people in our community.
“Everyone here has been super helpful. Sherry Jolley (hospital administrator) is open to new ideas and innovations that I’ve discussed. One has been the hospital-physician partnership. Any thoughts I’ve shared on how to improve this, they have been very receptive and helpful.”
Steven also sees more opportunities to help residents continue or seek their healthcare locally by utilizing technology.
“One of the things I’ve learned in my short three years of practice – we’ve had a lot of advancements,” Steven said. “One of the ways healthcare is shifting is we’ve had more focus on preventative health, screenings and things. We’re going to have more emphasis on this.”
Hormonal contraceptive options, such as through transdermal implants, and addiction management care are two services Steven is specifically interested in offering to the community. Another is finding ways to help people get the treatment they need here rather than having to be immediately sent to a larger facility an hour or more away.
“One of the big things I’ve been talking to Sherry about is a lot of times people get transferred out (of Red Bay Hospital) if they need a specialist,” Steven said. “One of the things we’ve been talking about is trying to keep more people here in town. If it’s a relatively mild case that could stay here and we can communicate with their specialist at Helen Keller or Huntsville Hospital, we could offer that here so they could consult and get the treatment we can offer here. And we want to get a telehealth or e-consult service started. If they are admitted here and their specialist is at Helen Keller, we want to work on a program where instead of having to be transferred they can have a telehealth conference with their specialist.”
Treatment options, if available, could then be offered locally, saving patients a trip out of town for the care they need.
Of course, these are just ideas for now and implementation is another matter, but Steven’s passion for healthcare and desire to serve the local community should offer reassurance to area residents about the future of care they’ll be able to receive here.
Steven is also interested in helping steer the next generation of medical care workers.
“I’m more than happy to talk to anyone wanting to go into medicine or allow them to shadow me,” Steven said.