Dr. Epplin Shifting Focus To Geriatrics

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After nearly 40 years of practicing at Litchfield Family Practice, Dr. Jerome Epplin has had what he likes to call it - a change - as he's shifted his focus to mainly supportive living, nursing home and homebound patients.

"Some people say I'm semi-retired, but I'm really not, I've just changed. I like changes, and mainly because of interest, but also because it is less stress and it does take less time. It's something I really like," he said.

He began his change in career several years ago by seeing patients 50 years and above. Three years ago, he would only see his patients who were 80 years and above, and did mostly nursing home calls and some office work.

As of Dec. 14, Dr. Epplin shifted once again as he follows his passion by solely caring for his geriatric patients.

Currently, he travels to eight different nursing homes and supportive living facilities in Litchfield, Hillsboro, Nokomis, Gillespie, Staunton and Carlinville.

"Over the last ten years, I've been changing a lot, which I know drives my patients crazy. I've just followed my interests, and I've not been afraid to change," he said.

Dr. Epplin spent 30 years writing questions for the American Board of Family Medicine, and for 16 of those years, he concentrated on the geriatric portion of the study.

In continuing to show his love for the elder generation, he currently serves on the board of directors for the American Geriatrics Society.  In that capacity, he is part of a committee that works on appropriate drug use in the elderly, otherwise known as Beers criteria.

He also served on the Alzheimer's Advisory Committee of the Illinois Department of Public Health for 25 years.

A native of Pinckneyville, he earned his bachelor of science degree from the University of Illinois in Champaign, and then graduated from medical school in Chicago. Dr. Epplin would complete his three years of residency in Rockford before coming to Litchfield in 1978.

"I chose Litchfield because at the time, it was one of the few small communities that had full-time emergency room coverage," he said.

"It is a small community, but it's close to a few large cities. Close enough to utilize without spreading yourself thin."

He would be joined by a few familiar faces including Dr. Roger Wujek just a year later, followed by Lonnie Laughlin and Phil Johnson.

Three of his former students in which he taught during his tenure at Southern Illinois University as a clinical professor for the Department of Family Medicine, Tim Ishmael, Dan Wujek and Keith Cochran, would later join the practice, along with Elaine Fisher and Laura Watt.

"When we started this practice, Dr. Roger Wujek and I had no clue it'd get this big," said Dr. Epplin.

Epplin, along with Wujek, has shown his service to the community by his efforts in continuing the supply of physicians to meet the needs of area residents.

The practice now cares for roughly 23,000 patients, and up to 400 people each day, and currently houses eight physicians, with a few more expected to join over the next few years.

Dr. Epplin recalls moving into their current building in 1997 or 1998, and the changes he's witnessed such as the number of physicians in the group and the electronic record which took effect around 13 years ago.

He added that the growth of insurance companies with various rules and regulations is also different, along with the obvious changes in practicing since his journey began.

"Over the years, I've had a lot of good nurses and nurse practitioners that have worked with me for quite awhile, and a physician needs good support staff like that," said Epplin. "Cindy Watters has been with me for almost 30 years and such experience is hard to find."

He also spoke of a former physician's assistant, Sheila Thomas, whom he worked with for 23 years, went back to school, and now works as a psychiatrist at the office two days a week, in addition to her work in Jacksonville.

In 1994, Dr. Epplin was named the Illinois Family Physician of the Year, and in 2010, he was honored as the 2010 National Clinician of the Year from the American Geriatrics Society.

"Although some changes have been difficult, the most difficult is letting go of patients, some of which I have taken care of for 35 plus years," he said. "I still have my list of patients I saw my very first day of practice, and I was still seeing some of these people. In that regard it was bittersweet, but I felt like it was what I needed to do."

He and his wife Renee reside in Litchfield, and share three children, Katie of Springfield, Luke of New York City, NY, and Rachel of Edwardsville, and four grandchildren.

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