Lea Way is 'stuff legends are made of'

By Shawn Byrne

Sun Editor/Photographer

In at least one way, shape, or form, Lea Way has touched the lives of everyone who resides in Morristown, Wickenburg, Congress, and Yarnell. Way has poured herself into these communities, and it shouldn’t be a surprise the certified family nurse practitioner and physician assistant with Wickenburg Community Hospital – Congress Community Clinic was named Woman of the Year by the Wickenburg Chamber of Commerce in January.

“When she stood up at the chamber banquet for woman of the year, she got a standing ovation,” said Jim Tavary, president and chief executive officer of WCH. “I was impressed with her banter, saying ‘I know most of you; I’ve delivered care to you and your families.’”

Way served the Yarnell community for 28 years before moving down the hill to Congress, where she’s been for seven years.

“I made house calls and waded through the snow. After the fire it was time to slow down,” she said. “Then they asked me to set up the clinic in Congress. I’ve been there seven years still ‘setting up.’”

It was because of this kind of service Way was named Woman of the Year by the chamber.

“(Lea) has served the needs of residents who need health care, similar to how ‘doctoring’ was in the rural western towns,” said Julie Brooks, chamber executive director. “As a caring health professional, she is also involved in serving as a leader on the Morristown school board and is a member of Business and Professional Women, along with many other organizations.

“She has endeared herself to generations.”

A Way of Caring

When Lea Way tells you patients expect their primary care providers to be part of their family, she’s saying that is how she treats those who are in her charge. Yes, she makes house calls even if it means she has to walk through snow. Way also shares her cell number so her patients can text her if the clinic is closed.

Education is important to Way, and she spends time with her patients so they understand how to listen to their own bodies. She’ll bring patients food if they’re housebound because of their illness.

“I laugh with my patients, I cry with my patients, and I rejoice with them when they get better,” Way said. “When I’m not able to do this, I will miss it terribly.”

She’ll even work to make life easier for her patients.

Peter Stachowicz, WCH chief of ambulatory services and medical imaging manager, has known and worked with Way for 20 years. A caring provider himself, he is still amazed at Way’s level of care.

Stachowicz shared a story about an elderly woman named Tula who Way showed an amazing amount of compassion and care.

“When Tula was long past her ability to function – she was an elderly, elderly lady – Lea gave her a job and kept her employed,” Stachowicz said. “It was just beautiful. Seeing how well she treated Tula even after those years when she couldn’t work anymore, it was an amazing example of compassion and care for the people up there.”

Gaining respect

Nurse practitioners haven’t been around all that long. In fact, Way’s license number is No. 154 and the going wasn’t easy for those, like Way, who tried to establish themselves in the new field of medicine.

“We started out in a real struggle trying to get accepted in the community of providers,” Way said. “It took a long time educating the radiologists, physicians and pharmacists.”

Way once had a radiologist from Prescott tell her he could not take her order for a mammogram. A pharmacist once insisted that as a nurse practitioner Way could not prescribe medicine.

“We do everything a physician does, but we don’t do surgeries,” she said. “We assess, we diagnose, and we treat. It’s taken a long time pushing that through.”

Way has pushed through and has earned the respect from her colleagues and peers.

“She’s a real sparkplug as far as our medical staff goes,” said Richard Wedig, chief clinical and surgical services officer for Wickenburg Community Hospital. “She has gained the respect of her colleagues because of her tenacity by driving herself into ‘I want to know more, I don’t want to be left behind, and I want what is best for my patients.’”

Another way she has gained respect is in her ability to build relationships not only at WCH, but throughout the healthcare field in the Phoenix area. She does all of that to benefit her patients.

“Lea knows the best of the best of the best specialists,” Stachowicz said. “She has direct contact with surgeons, cancer centers, Mayo; she always refers her patients to the best specialists.”

The face of WCH

Getting people into health care and receiving preventative medicine is of utmost importance to Lea Way. She pushes for not only her patients, but everyone, to get their immunizations and regular studies completed.

“Early diagnosis of any disease process gives a better outcome,” Way said. “If you can diagnose cancer early … If you have a symptom, it’s a cause of something. People will take their cars in, they’ll spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on fu-fu medicine, but won’t take of themselves.”

Way is an advocate for her patients, and she isn’t afraid to tell them like she sees it. If a patient is up in age and living out in the middle of nowhere, Way will question them if that is the best place for them to be living. Perhaps they should be living closer to family and medicine. She wants everyone to know they need to have a plan if things should go sideways.

Way’s patient advocacy is one of her values that is highly admired by the administration at WCH. So much so, she is seen as the example for all at WCH.

“When it comes to quality, great empathy, and great compassion, and if we were to say ‘what should our reputation look like in regards to quality care?’” Tavary said. “It should look like Lea Way. If we can be Lea, we’re fine.”

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