09/04/08 — New director targets 'healthy'

View Archive

New director targets 'healthy'

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 4, 2008 1:55 PM

At age 76, Dr. Ashton Griffin shows no signs of slowing down.

In fact, he might just be getting his second wind, with education as his platform.

A dedicated health advocate, Dr. Griffin often rides his bike up to 10 miles in the morning and recently enjoyed a vacation biking across the Netherlands.

For the past 45 years he has had a solo private family practice whose patients have aged along with him — from pediatrics to family practice and now many advancing into old age.

“I had pretty much grown into a geriatrician,” he quipped.

But instead of considering retirement, changes in insurance practices forced him to begin closing down his office and weighing other options.

“I was going to do some temporary work with private practice doctors in Swansboro,” he said. “I looked at other temporary things with the VA, things like that.

“None of it seemed to work out. It didn’t suit me.”

When he learned about the opening for medical director at the Wayne County Health Department, he applied for the job.

Now he’s working hard — 10-hour days three days a week — but not necessarily any harder than he used to, when a 12-hour day four days a week was the norm.

His new job has turned out well, he said.

“It was time for me to get out of private practice, and this has been an ideal situation. Not only am I having fun but when I go home, I’m done.”

His patient load is different, many of them through the family planning clinic, others,

high risk pregnancies. Mostly, he assists in the Health Department’s various clinics, which also include breast cancer and cervical cancer.

The latter, he said, is especially critical as it’s the only one delving into the area of cholesterol tests.

“One of my big issues is to educate the general public and to treat as much as we can high cholesterol because it’s such a dramatic response in preventive heart attack and stroke,” he said.

He has witnessed it firsthand in his own practice –– patients declining rapidly only to make marked improvements when the right medication is prescribed for cholesterol. There is also a correlation to heart attacks and even mental capacity when cholesterol is not treated, he said.

“I don’t know how many of the diseases of the aging are caused by circulation,” he said. “I do know if you don’t water a garden, it won’t grow.”

In addition to cardiovascular work, his other area of concentration will be cancer, a prevalent issue and one he plans to approach with sensitivity.

“We have in place here a great educational system. I see myself using this in-place structure and taking part in their programs, speaking to major groups,” he said. “For 50 years I was one on one. Now I’ll be one on 100. If we educate the public, they can educate their doctors.”

But Dr. Griffin has no intention of taking on the task alone.

“What I plan to do is develop ‘Ashton’s Army.’ I want to become surgeon general of Wayne County,” he said with a laugh. “It’ll be a self-appointed title.”

He hopes to enlist the support of the community in accomplishing the goal of “informing the public.”

“I see them as people who can speak to their Sunday school classes. I can provide them with material,” he said. “Even one on 100, there are limited contacts that I can make.”

Churches can be especially helpful in conveying the message of good health practices, Dr. Griffin said. Some programs are already in place in several churches, and he hopes more will get on board.

“I think if you’re a Christian and you read the Bible, you’ll find in there that your body is God’s temple and it shouldn’t be defiled,” he said. “I think that’s a good theological approach.

“I say that we can do a lot with the expenditure of virtually no money. We’re talking about some postcards, some talks.”

Dr. Griffin would like for smokers and non-smokers alike to enlist in “Ashton’s Army.”

“If they name themselves to me, I don’t have to go find them and help them quit,” he said.

The initiative is something he has considered for a long time.

“When I really looked at the Health Department and saw the wonderful resources in place, even though we have the restraints of local government ... if enough people will get on this, we can do things,” he said. “I have a position here that I can use. Maybe I’m in a better position than somebody else might have.”

No one was more surprised than Dr. Griffin to find out that the next chapter in his career would be found practically in his own back yard. He was born in the same building where he now works. The Health Department building once served as the county hospital.

“I’ve lived here all my life, except for college and when I was in the military. I came here totally unprepared for the number of things that they really do here at the Health Department. I have great nurse practitioners that I respect. We have a lot of really good people here,” he said.

And while he is becoming comfortable in his new role, he admitted that he will miss aspects of his long-time private practice.

“My practice has been a group of friends, family,” he said.

To e-mail Dr. Griffin, write to ArmyAshton@aol.com.