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Dr. Joe Blum Keeps Focus on His Veteran Patients Despite Health-Care System’s Restraints

VA doctor mindful of larger obstacles and obligations while prescribing treatment in as personal a setting as possible

[Noozhawk’s note: This article is part of Day 10 in Noozhawk’s 12-day, six-week special investigative series, Prescription for Abuse. Related links are below.]

Name: Dr. Joe Blum

Location: Santa Barbara

Role: Veterans Affairs Clinic physician

One of Dr. Joe Blum’s patients was an Army colonel in the Vietnam War who suffered multiple wounds and endured dozens of surgeries.

Blum, a Santa Barbara Veterans Affairs Clinic physician, prescribed the colonel powerful painkillers and his quality of life began to improve. But as he got better, Blum’s superiors decided he was overprescribing.

“He couldn’t move on the drugs they gave him, so he got blood clots in his legs that ended up killing him,” Blum said.

                                Prescription for Abuse  |  Complete Series Index  |

From then on, Blum decided he would do whatever is reasonable in the best interest of his patients.

“You are responsible for your patient so have to use your best judgment,” he said.

Blum studied civil engineering at Purdue University, where he met his wife, Marty, who is currently an SBCC trustee and the former mayor of Santa Barbara. After the couple settled in Santa Barbara in 1968, he went to medical school and became one of the first internal medicine specialists in the area.

Blum has taken care of veterans in Santa Barbara for the past 28 years.

“You try to alleviate human suffering and do no harm,” he said. “It’s a tough balance but that makes it challenging.”

Knowing one’s limitations is the most important characteristic a doctor can posses, according to Blum.

Blum shies away from drugs like OxyContin because of its street reputation, and he asks each patient about his or her background because one can never be too careful, he said.

“There are so many different prescription drugs at people’s disposal,” he said. “As a society it gets tougher. There are a lot of people unemployed and we need to be more alert for people who are desperate to put roofs over their head and get food.”

Blum said one of the biggest problems in the health-care industry is the decreasing amount of time doctors have to spend with each patient.

“Most of us have social situations like playing sports or other activities, but some veterans’ only social situation is the clinic,” he said.

But that’s what makes Blum’s job special, he said.

“I’m working with veterans who sacrificed for country,” he said. “It’s more challenging but also more rewarding.”

                                Prescription for Abuse  |  Complete Series Index  |

Noozhawk staff writers Daniel Langhorne and Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), respectively. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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