Putting Health First : Two South County doctor brothers who serve mostly Latinos aren’t concerned about clients’ papers or pocketbooks.
Back in the 1960s, after Mexican farm workers left the fields at each sunset, Dr. Monte McCanne’s office in this tiny agricultural town would begin to fill with laborers and their children. The doctor was always in, sometimes as late as 10 p.m., and he never rejected a patient who couldn’t pay.
Now in his 34th year of practice, McCanne, a primary-care physician who also provides obstetric services, says patients continue to come to him for medical care because he still welcomes all, even those uninsured, undocumented or unable to pay.
“I’ve always thought that . . . all I had to do was walk out the door and down the street and I’d find people in desperate need,” said McCanne, 60.
Former city planner Raymundo Becerra said: “I see Monte as a key player in the community who very humbly and quietly does his work. He is an old-town family doctor who has the love and respect of the Latinos here.”
About 75% of McCanne’s patients are Latino.
Even when Becerra arrived in San Juan Capistrano in 1973, he was surprised to meet so many people who were patients of Monte McCanne.
And now it seems like everyone has been delivered by Monte, “sometimes even three generations,” said Becerra.
Monte McCanne is not alone. His brother, Don McCanne, 57, is a San Clemente physician who also provides care regardless of his patients’ ability to pay.
“When other doctors wouldn’t take (obstetrics) patients without insurance, the McCannes would always accept them,” said Thomas E. Shaver, a surgeon at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo.
“Despite financial hardships that go along with taking care of people without insurance . . . the (McCannes) have really committed their entire professional lives to caring for the Hispanic community in that area,” Shaver said.
Patients who haven’t been able to pay cash for the doctors’ services have found other ways to reciprocate. They show their appreciation with flats of strawberries, crates of melons, chickens, homemade banana bread, crocheted tablecloths and clothing.
At work, instead of typical medical garb, Monte McCanne wears one of the many guayaberas he has received. These lightweight cotton shirts are popular in Mexico’s coastal states of Veracruz and Guerrero.
“Between the two of us we’ve probably done $5 million worth of free work. . . . But once you’ve eaten, how much money do you really need?” said Monte McCanne, who, like his brother, is married and maintains a modest lifestyle.
The McCannes are links in a family legacy that has provided for the less fortunate. Their grandfather, a real estate agent who owned orange groves in Pomona, delivered fruit to the mainly Latino residents of low-income neighborhoods in the south side of that city.
Their father, a former architect and schoolteacher who completed medical school while his children were growing up, opened two medical practices in Pomona in the 1950s to provide desperately needed health care. When he opened weekend clinics in San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente in the 1960s, his two sons--doctors themselves--took charge. (Don McCanne’s twin brother also followed in their father’s footsteps: He is an obstetrician for Kaiser Permanente in Fontana).
“We certainly filled a need. When we came here, nobody wanted to serve the indigent,” said Don McCanne, who arrived in San Clemente in 1966, five years after his brother settled in San Juan Capistrano. “But there are always going to be people who have difficulty in obtaining medical care.”
Slowly, word spread through the barrios about the brothers who never asked if their patients were documented residents.
Marcela Conde’s three daughters are the fourth generation of her family whom the McCannes have treated.
“The McCannes have great personalities. When I talk to them they don’t give me the run-around,” said Conde, 23, who was delivered by Monte McCanne and who had two of her daughters delivered by Don McCanne. “My whole family goes to them, from my grandmother and mother to my aunts and sister.”
Having a sibling who’s a doctor nearby has been a blessing for the brothers. They have rotated on-call duties since 1966 and have left town together only once, when their father died 20 years ago.
A joint practice, however, is something the brothers never considered, based on their father’s advice.
“My dad told us, ‘you’ll stay together by staying apart,’ and by having separate offices we’ve been happily associated,” said Monte McCanne. “Don has put in a quarter of a century and I passed the third of a century mark and I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Though the brothers have the same desire to help the indigent, in many ways they are different. Don McCanne speaks limited Spanish while Monte is bilingual.
Don McCanne is active in his community, serving as chairman of the Mariners Bank in San Juan Capistrano and as a board member at Samaritan Medical Center in San Clemente, while Monte prefers to keep a lower profile.
Don McCanne said he is obsessive when it comes to following rules, while his brother is more casual and “warmer.”
Yet, when it comes to dosages of dedication, the siblings are like twins. Both work late into the evening and on weekends.
Some people object to the McCannes providing health care to illegal residents.
“Orange County is bankrupt. We simply do not have the resources to take care of the world,” said Nancy Thomson, coordinator of Citizens for Responsible Immigration, based in Orange. “These doctors do not have the right to give their services to people who” are here illegally.
Don McCanne responded by saying, “I’m a physician. I take care of people. And I know that offends some people, but every single person deserves adequate health care.”
He added that “the private patients pay the bills and keep us financially viable.”
Long hours, a progression of patients, low Medi-Cal reimbursement rates. Why do the McCannes continue this course?
“There’s a lot of gratification. It’s just the overall feeling of doing something good,” said Don McCanne.
Monte McCanne’s gratification sometimes comes years later--18 years later, for example, when a baby he delivered in a garage buys him a hamburger at a local eatery.
“My dream was to go to kindergarten, to learn medicine, to learn Spanish and do some good work,” said Monte McCanne. “My patients have made my dreams come true again and again.”
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