End of a 5,000-baby run

OLYMPIA - A longtime South Sound doctor who specialized in obstetrics and gynecology will close her medical practice next week, a victim of the slower economy and a decision that likely will alter the health care landscape for women in Thurston County.

Dr. Marilyn Gage, 55, who operated the Women for Women in Olympia clinic in a suite at 703 Lilly Road N.E., made it clear this week that she is not closing because her practice was doing poorly. It was a series of events, including a failed restaurant and the falling value of the building she owns, that forced her to make the move.

“It wasn’t one thing that ended it,” Gage said. “It was the perfect storm with a lot of cracks that caused an earthquake.”

Women for Women in Olympia will close at the end of business Thursday, she said. After that, Gage will work behind the scenes to wrap up a South Sound medical career that lasted 18 years in Olympia. She estimates that in that time, she helped deliver 5,000 babies, or about 250 a year. Her clinic closes with 125 active obstetric patients, most of whom have been notified about her decision in letters she sent this month.

“Unfortunately, I have come to the inevitable place of needing to close my practice and relinquish the building to my creditors. I do this with great sadness,” she said in her letter.

Gage said this week that she also faces the prospect of filing for personal bankruptcy protection.

“You can’t run a medical practice without credit,” she said.

One of Gage’s patients, Jude Guyer, 62, of Chehalis, said her tears fell onto the page as she read the letter about Gage’s decision.

“I hope I don’t lose a good friend,” Guyer said. “I felt a personal side to us. She shared things and I shared things.” Guyer also said Gage helped her to lose 90 pounds and delivered three grandchildren.

Gage started in Olympia at the former Memorial Clinic, which closed in 2002. From there, a group of seven doctors, including Gage, formed the Horizon Medical Group. She moved to her location in May 2007, into a 13,000-square-foot medical office building that was also home to a natural-foods restaurant called Vitals Cafe and Antidote Spa & Fitness. The spa will continue to be run by Jennifer Moore after the clinic is closed, Gage said.

The restaurant closed about a year ago, she said. Gage said the restaurant never did well, then became a “catastrophically unsuccessful venture” when the downturn in the economy took hold. She also has tried to sell her building, but because of the slower commercial real estate market, the building’s value has fallen about 30 percent.

“The best we can hope for is a short sale,” Gage said, referring to the process in which a lender agrees to accept less money for the property than the value of the mortgage.

Providence Physician Network Chief Executive Dr. Rik Emaus said that once Gage closes her practice, it will increase the need here for doctors who specialize in obstetrics and gynecology. Not only do they work with gynecological issues and help women who are having children, but also they provide preventive-care services, such as cervical and breast cancer screenings, he said.

Emaus said Gage, who was a staff member at Providence St. Peter Hospital, notified him about her decision two weeks ago. Emaus met Gage on Friday morning to see whether the hospital could help. After the meeting, nothing had changed her decision to close the clinic, although they “clearly are trying to be as supportive as they can,” Gage said about the hospital.