By Rice C. Leach, M.D., President, Lexington Medical Society
James Stephen (Steve) Davis, MD is a pediatrician who started attending to a few new born babies a year in Glasgow, Kentucky after completing his residency at the University of Kentucky and ended up responsible for the well-being of over 50,000 new born babies a year as Acting Commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health (KDPH). He grew up in Pikeville and Lexington and was a star baseball player at Tates Creek High School in the 1960’s. After graduating from Morehead State University he attended the University of Kentucky Medical School before his residency training.
Steve left Glasgow after a few years to return to Pikeville where he was one of those doctors who saw anyone who needed him. Rich, poor, insured or uninsured it –– didn’t matter. He once said that an older physician in Pikeville told him that patients would come see him no matter what, even climbing down from the cliffs to see him if he treated them “like he cared”. He stayed in Pikeville running his clinic in the basement of a building until he became the chief of Maternal and Child Health services for the KDPH
in 1995. He served as chairman of the Pike County Board of Health and was familiar with some of the state programs through his role as a pediatrician supporting the county health department and their child health programs.
Speaking of his tenure in Frankfort, he said that in Pikeville he might be able to make a difference for a few thousand children but at the state level, he could have an impact on thousands of children. And have an impact he did. He was the driving force behind the public health aspects of the HANDS program initiated as part of Governor Patton’s Early Childhood Initiative and funded by tobacco settlement money. He and others established a program of home visiting not unlike the public health nursing programs from decades earlier. Trained staff visited ‘at risk’ first time mothers to coach them on how to manage their pregnancy and their new babies’ first two years. Babies born to mothers who participated in the HANDS program demonstrated an earlier entry in to prenatal care, a decrease in very low birth
weight babies and significant decreases in child neglect and child abuse.
He also helped champion the expanded newborn screening. He demonstrated that a broad-based newborn screening program would identify babies compromised by metabolic and genetic disorders allowing for the treating of scores of children with correctible metabolic defects. With the help of others he somehow managed to work the funding into the KDPH budget.
After retiring from state government he joined HealthFirst Bluegrass, Inc. as its Executive Director. In this role he led Lexington’s largest federally qualified health center from serious operational problems to an independent tax-exempt organization that operates independently of local government and has expanded from ten service sites to thirteen sites. On his watch, and, as he always says, “standing on the shoulders of the entire team,” primary medical, dental and pharmacy care services have become
available in more locations. Hundreds of people have a doctor today when yesterday they had to go without.
Dr. Davis has taken his clinical training and experience to make things better for thousands of people. He is practicing this Population Medicine we keep hearing about.