After 15 years at Freeman Neosho Hospital, Dr. Craig Pendergrass is starting a private practice in downtown Neosho.

After 15 years at Freeman Neosho Hospital, Dr. Craig Pendergrass is starting a private practice in downtown Neosho.

Prime Care Family Medicine will be located at 117 E. Hickory St. and should be open by mid-January, according to Pendergrass. Though the physician’s office will be next door to the future Mitchell's Downtown Drug Store, which will open around the same time, the two are entirely separate and are not financially connected in any way, Pendergrass noted. He and pharmacist Tim Mitchell are not business partners, he said. Still, he acknowledged that having a pharmacy next door should be mutually beneficial and convenient.

“We think it's a great combination,” Pendergrass said. “It's going to be good for him and it's going to be good for me, but I don't benefit from his pharmacy other than just having that convenience for my patients.”

He will start scheduling appointments in mid-December. He is keeping his current nurse practitioner and plans to expand that number to four. He may even bring in another physician at some point, he said.

At Prime Care Family Medicine, Pendergrass will continue to focus on three areas of health care. The first is preventative medicine, such as general health screenings, i.e. blood pressure checks, blood sugar checks, cholesterol checks, etc.

“All of that stuff is going to stay important,” he said.

The second area of concentration, and what Pendergrass currently does a lot of, will be maintenance of chronic medical problems such as lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, and health issues associated with aging in general.

The third target of focus will be on hospice and palliative care for end-of-life patients, which Pendergrass is also heavily involved in. Pendergrass is the only board certified hospice and palliative care physician in the area.

He won't be offering immunizations for newborns or see children under five, noting that there are “plenty of pediatricians in town who are doing a good job at that.”

Though still in the idea stage, Pendergrass said he will probably offer both a Saturday morning clinic and an after-hours clinic one day a week for patients who can't take off of work during normal business hours.

“Those are things we're thinking about and will probably happen,” Pendergrass said.

Pendergrass started at Freeman Neosho in 1997, his first and only position after residency. He said he will continue to maintain a close relationship with Freeman and ensure his patients access to services he cannot provide, such as radiology.

“I have a great relationship with Freeman,” Pendergrass said. “They are helping me through this transition. We're not angry at one another. I am remaining on the PHO [physician-hospital organization]. I'm going to refer all hospital patients back to them when I can. I want the hospital to do well. It's a community resource that we do not want to lose. That's not going to change any. I'm just not going to be an employee.”

He said he has been thinking of entering into private practice for about three years. He said Freeman Neosho is the only hospital in the area he is aware of that doesn't use hospitalists, but rather a group of primary care physicians who wear a lot of different hats. He said it has become increasingly difficult to recruit new doctors under the current model.

“It's just the way things are going,” he said. “You can't find anybody who wants to come to this little town and do what we do. It's tough.”

Meanwhile, much of the current physician group is getting older and is doing little on-call anymore, Pendergrass said. He also said there may be some additional changes ahead as well.

“I've had a great 15 years at Freeman, it's just that times have changed,” Pendergrass said. “The group dynamics have changed and I saw this as my opportunity, that it's now or never. I've thought about it for three years and I finally decided to go ahead and do it.”

He later said that there have been a number of physicians in the Joplin area who have gone independent in just the last five years or so.

“You can do it, there is just more work to it,” Pendergrass said. “You have a whole new set of headaches, but you have a little more freedom. And I think you're going to see more people going independent. The specialists have to stay employed because you have to have those procedures for the hospitals. But I think the trend in primary care may be to become independent. That's a theory.”


The telephone number for Prime Care Family Medicine is 451-4545. A message system is currently set up. Appointments may be scheduled starting mid-December.