On July 5, the Smoky Mountain Foot and Ankle Clinic, P.A. celebrated its 20th anniversary of serving the foot and ankle healthcare needs of Western North Carolina. Dr. William Banks, a Haywood County native, founded the practice in 1991. While attending pharmacy school at UNC-Chapel Hill, Dr. Banks began to explore the needs of different healthcare specialties.
“There was a great need for a podiatrist west of Asheville,” says Dr. Banks. After completing his residency, he came back to Western North Carolina to open the first foot and ankle clinic west of Asheville. It was apparent that his services were needed. At the time, there was no one dedicated to foot and ankle care, no wound care centers and no focus on the diabetic foot. None of the hospitals west of Asheville had a podiatrist on staff.
“When I went to the local hospitals in 1991 to request surgical privileges, I had to explain exactly what I was trained to do,” said Dr. Banks. “The hospital boards were excited to expand services and we went to work to create hospital bylaws that included podiatric services. The hospitals were great. They embraced my concept, purchased new power equipment and supported me in every way.”
Dr. Banks was able to set up his practice from a distance, while completing his residency in Baltimore, Md. His dad completed most of the office remodel. His sister Donna and assistant Elsie, helped book appointments and get the office ready. Dr. Banks completed residency training on June 30th and saw 20 patients in his new office on July 5, 1991. “I still can’t believe we were able to pull that transition off so quickly,” said Dr. Banks. “I am very proud of what we accomplished.”
The first office in Franklin was located in the senior citizen building near Walmart. “We treated patients in a small room in the back. In 1993, the practice had expanded to the point of needing a second doctor. Dr. Robert DelBene was hired to assist. It was just prior to this time that the hospital in Sylva began to “recruit” Dr. Banks. Adding Dr. Del- Bene allowed the Smoky Mountain Foot Clinic to expand into these other areas. At this time, the Franklin office relocated to the new doctor complex above Walmart.
After Dr. DelBene’s arrival, a retiring podiatrist in Asheville approached Banks to offer him his practice. The offer was too good to pass up, so the expansion moved East. It was obvious that a third doctor would be needed. In 1995, Dr. Scott Hale joined the practice. The first decade of practice showed phenomenal growth. In 2002, a fourth doctor was hired. Dr. Robert Przynosch joined the practice, bringing a whole new set of skills. In 2008, the foot clinic moved to its current location at 188 Georgia Road. This move quadrupled the space from before and allowed for rapid expansion of services.
To assist in the growing need for diabetic related services, the foot clinic hired a full time Pedorthist, Jeremy Long.
“We were only the second podiatry office in the state to employ a pedorthist,” said Dr. Banks. “We now have a comprehensive orthotic lab, allowing us to fabricate custom devices on site. We also provide a full line of braces and can provide expert shoe advice.”
Last year a Locum Tenens was hired to fill a short term need while a full time podiatrist could be located. Dr. Gretchen Lawrence joined the practice in January 2011. She brings new skills in trauma, rearfoot surgery and ankle surgery. Her advanced training has complimented the practice.
During the recruiting efforts last year, Dr. Banks was able to meet several very qualified individuals. Knowing the practice is growing quickly, it was decided to hire a fifth doctor. Next month, Dr. Matt Davis will be joining the other four doctors and staff of 14. The practice is excited to bring in his skills in diabetic reconstruction, ankle implants and ankle reconstruction. Dr. Davis plans to spend most of his time in the Franklin office. Our intent is to be full time in Macon County, a goal dreamed of for many years.
“Looking back, it has been amazing to see what we have accomplished,” states Dr. Banks. “We have come a long way from one doctor and one assistant to five doctors, a pedorthist and 14 employees. When we first opened, patients with previous amputations were common. Today, we rarely encounter patients with leg amputations. Our focus on diabetes and preservation of legs has truly made a difference. Likewise, bringing new and exciting techniques in the treatment of foot and ankle conditions has improved many lives.” The Smoky Mountain Foot and Ankle Clinic, P.A. will continue to expand to meet the growing needs of Western North Carolina.
The clinic can be reached at (828)349-4534 or www.smokymountainfootclinic.com.