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Happy to be outstanding in his fields

Dr. Jeffrey Hayer.  Recorder/Paul Franz

Dr. Jeffrey Hayer. Recorder/Paul Franz

GREENFIELD — In the early morning summer hours, before orthopedic doctor Jeffrey Hayer spends his days treating patients with arthritis, broken bones and muscle injuries, he drives to the 200-tree orchard he’s planted in Heath.

On his 56 acres on the side of a mountain, Hayer will water and cut the trees that will produce fruit like apples, apricots, peaches, pears and plums. An amateur brewer, he’ll sometimes use the fruit to make hard cider. His children and grandchildren will happily scoop up the rest.

Hayer cherishes these moments. Back in Greenfield by 7 a.m., he’s walking around Baystate Franklin Medical Center, checking in on patients from the emergency room and giving consultations to other physicians.

It’s a high-stress job for the rest of the day. In both the hospital and the Riddell Street office of his medical practice, the Franklin Orthopaedic Group, he’s working with people whose injuries are complicating their ability to move.

“Movement is life,” said Hayer. “We need to maintain a person’s ability to move and that sometimes is easier said than done.”

Hayer, 60, who grew up in Greenfield and returned after school to live here, has worked in the medical practice for 31 years with his partner Thomas Echeverria. The Franklin District Medical Society selected Hayer as this year’s Community Clinician of the Year.

The county’s increasingly older population has meant that as Hayer himself gets older, his work is becoming more difficult. The work hours stretch into the night. The days of the week are irrelevant. Late-night emergency calls occur frequently.

But Hayer still enjoys what he does and who he serves, even if the very nature of a medical practice in a rural county means he’s often treating neighbors and friends.

“You can be a hero or a zero,” he said. “A lot of people get angry and irritated if the expectations are not met and you can’t blame them.”

No surgeon is absolutely perfect at his craft and medicine itself is both a science and art, said Hayer, which can lead to imperfections and complications. The gravity of the job takes its toll on the doctors and their families, who must deal with vacations cut short and dinner dates postponed.

Hayer is also skeptical about government-imposed regulations, which he said try to put medicine into a “cookbook.”

“A little bit of cookbook (is) good,” he said. “A lot of cookbook is bad because then you remove the art of it and what happens? You just have robotic medicine.”

Since Hayer has always been interested in how things are structurally connected, it made sense to gravitate toward orthopedics — the study of bones, joints, associated muscles and nerves. He earned his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and his medical degree from Dartmouth Medical School.

He then went on to complete a general surgery internship and residency at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and had an orthopedic residency at the University of Connecticut. While he received other job offers, including one to become a medical instructor, he knew he wanted to return to Greenfield.

Starting in the early 2000s, Hayer has worked closely with Jeff King, manager of rehabilitation services for Baystate Rehabilitation Care. They’ve developed a comprehensive spine rehabilitation program that King said is rare to find in a rural community, and he credits Hayer with helping make it so successful.

“He is probably the most robust, passionate medical director I’ve ever worked with ... (yet) he is never too busy to return a phone call,” said King.

Hayer said that he wouldn’t have won the award without his medical support system: the people who work in his office and the employees he interacts with at the hospital. And while the long hours continue to add up, he plans to continue his work at helping the residents of the county improve their mobility.

After all, there’s always the mornings in the orchards. And his favorite spot for a lunchtime fly-fishing session is only minutes away.

You can reach Chris Shores at: cshores@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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