The last doctor in Clay County

  • Haisten Willis
1:45 p.m Friday, Nov. 10, 2017 AJC Homepage
HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Dr. Karen Kinsell checks her patient Jimmie Fair at Clay County Medical Center in Fort Gaines on Thursday, October 19, 2017.

Karen Kinsell, 62, is the only doctor operating in Clay, an impoverished county of 3,000 residents in southwest Georgia’s “black belt,” so named initially for the rich soil of the region, then later for those who cultivated that soil.  

Karen opened her practice 19 years ago and has been the only physician in town for the last 12. Where an average doctor sees maybe 20 patients a day, she sees 30-plus, long ago accepting the necessity of 11-hour work days that last into nightfall during the colder months.

The practice, known as Clay County Medical Center, isn’t what a metro Atlantan would call typical. The building began life as a Tastee Freeze stand. It also spent time as a car dealership, a loan office and a storage facility before becoming Karen’s office. It sits just south of downtown Fort Gaines, the county seat, not far from the long-shuttered hospital.

The medical center bears typical doctor’s office wall decor on its knotty pine paneling, which serves to camouflage holes in the wall left over from the building’s eclectic past. Water damage can be seen along the ceiling tiles. The furniture is mismatched.

“It’s really not how a doctor’s office should be in America,” Karen says. “Certainly not in Georgia.”

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