In small-town Mississippi, where poverty is endemic, transportation is limited and a trip to the emergency room can lead to financial ruin, an alternative exists for those in the know.
His name is Dr. Landrum — Carrol Frazier Landrum — and, even if your pockets are empty, the 88-year-old physician from Edwards, Miss., will schedule you for an appointment.
For the last two years, Landrum has been working without an office, but he’s happy to meet his patients wherever they are. Sometimes, the meetings occur in a home; sometimes they take place in a parking lot. Other patients meet the doctor on the side of a quiet country road — or inside his 2007 Toyota Camry.
The location doesn’t matter because Landrum, a World War II veteran who has been in private practice for more than 55 years, believes it’s his duty to help anyone who calls on him.
“I’ve always had a heart for the poor,” Landrum told The Washington Post this week, struggling to hold back tears. “I grew up poor, and when the doctor would come to us, and he was happy to see us, I pictured myself doing that some day. I try not to ever turn people away — money or no money – because that’s where the need is.”
But his work may soon come to an end.
Landrum said he’s being asked by the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure to surrender his medical license, which he’s carried in his pocket with pride since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. The reason for the request, according to Landrum, is that the board balked several months ago upon learning that he was operating his practice out of a car.
At a recent hearing, Landrum said, he was labeled “incompetent” by the board. He said the charge is a catchall, one designed to avoid citing a specific occupational violation, and he maintains he’s done nothing wrong. He said he doesn’t recruit patients and only responds to those who have nowhere else to turn.
“If you’re gong down a highway and somebody is hurt in a car accident, you stop and attend to them,” he told The Post. “And if you’re in a shopping center and somebody is having a heart attack, you stop and help. It’s your duty as a physician, and this is no different.”
A Board of Medical Licensure investigation is now underway, according to NBC affiliate WLBT. The board’s executive director, H. Vann Craig, declined to confirm to The Post that an investigation has begun. In a brief telephone conversation this week, Craig said he could not publicly address “complaints” until and unless “action is taken by the board.”
“The mission of the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure,” he said, “is to protect the public.”
Landrum’s many supporters — who can be found throughout Edwards and “for 50 miles in every direction,” according to the doctor — say that’s exactly what he’s doing. Last week, supporters — some of whom are third-generation patients — began circulating a petition calling on the state board to allow Landrum to keep his medical license.
Karen Holt, an Edwards resident, told WLBT that she loves knowing the doctor is available.
“There’s a lot of poverty in Edwards,” she said. “There are many, many people here who do not have transportation to Vicksburg, Clinton, Jackson, and he truly serves a purpose. And there are people who come to him who would not get medical treatment otherwise.”
Cornelius Moriley agreed, telling the station: “He’s saved a lot of people, you know what I’m saying? I think he should be left alone and steadily serve the people.”
Responding to the WLBT story, Margie Williams Divinity, a former registered nurse who said she has worked alongside Landrum in the past, wrote:
I beg the state board of medicine to allow Dr Landrum to continue practicing medicine. He is one of the smartest physicians still practicing. His knowledge base is vast. His diagnosis are always on point and he refers patients and always follow up with his patients. He cares about people, about treating them. He doesn’t care about all of the billing insurances and Medicare and all of the politics associated with medicine. He just wants to help people. He is still very sharp mentally at 88 probably because he did not let all of this political monopoly on healthcare stress him out by not continuing to partake. He is 88 y/o. Let him do what he enjoys and at the same time continue to serve his community…
Before moving his office to his car two years ago, Landrum operated his practice out of an apartment in a low-income housing complex, where he found himself surrounded by patients, according to WLBT. Increasing gang violence, including two shootings that occurred just outside his clinic door, led him to fear for his safety and eventually convinced him to close shop, he said.
“My patients kept saying, ‘Don’t leave, don’t leave,’ and I started working out of my automobile,” he told WLBT.
Landrum said he planned to find a new office but never secured one. Still, the phone calls kept coming in. These days, he estimates, he sees three or four patients each week, many of them old friends he’s been treating for years.
A visitation starts with a phone call in which Landrum tries to get as much information about the patient’s condition and medical history as possible. Next, a meeting is arranged, with the doctor driving as far as 50 miles to reach patients who can’t come to him. Appointments might occur while he leans his head inside the cab of a pickup truck as it idles in a vacant parking lot.
“We’re not in an office, so we’re dealing with just the immediate problem,” he said, noting that many of his patients are on Medicaid. “It’s not a general physical examination, but things like sore throats, flu symptoms or skin rashes. I always told them, ‘If you’re not better from day to day, call me,’ and then I give them my phone number.”
Asked why he doesn’t just retire, Landrum, who doesn’t have children, isn’t married and considers his patients the closest thing he has to family, offered his life story as an explanation.
He grew up on a rural farm picking cotton during the Great Depression. After high school, he said, he was drafted into the Navy, where he worked as a sonar operator on a destroyer in the South Pacific. A stint in the Air Force during the Korean War followed, and then medical school at Tulane University came next. By the mid-1950s, he’d launched a private practice that has lasted for decades.
“After all these years, I still want to be like the small-town doctor who cared for us growing up — Dr. Coursey,” Landrum said. “He was good and always happy. There was never a time when he treated anyone like they were not someone.”