With his offices located in an expansive medical complex on South Coulter Street, you might think that Dr. Alan Keister is one of those hard-to-reach “city doctors.”
But unless with a patient, Keister usually answers his mobile phone after the second or third ring and is always willing to help.
The Amarillo native and internal medicine specialist is the founder of Heal the City, a free clinic that provides for the medical needs of the uninsured.
Recently, Keister was awarded the Dr. Oscar E. Edwards Memorial Award for Volunteerism and Community Service. The award is one of the American College of Physicians’ highest honors and is named in memory of the late Dr. Oscar E. Edwards, a former governor and regent of the college.
Keister is a graduate of Amarillo High School. He attended Baylor University in Waco, then went on to medical school at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.
He completed his internal medicine studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Keister said he could have stayed in the “Country Music Capital of the World” to practice if he wanted to, but instead came back to his hometown. He has been practicing medicine in Amarillo since 2000.
“I’ve always wanted to come back and invest in the people who invested in me,” he said. “Part of my volunteerism came out of my faith roots. I’ve really been blessed and wanted to pour back into the place that has helped me so much.”
His wife, Vicki, is a physical therapist but is currently a “full-time mom” raising the couple’s four daughters.
Heal the City, located at 609 S. Carolina St., opened its doors four years ago.
“I think the turning point came after going on several mission trips,” he said. “I developed over time relationships with physicians here who traveled to Central America to give their time and energy.”
Keister said he wanted to bring back to Amarillo some of the experiences he had while in Central America, in particular Honduras.
“I grew up in a part of city that was doing well,” he said, “but I realized there are people who don’t have lot of resources - people who didn’t have access to health care or medications. Seeing those needs in other countries made me realize we have those needs right here.”
Keister said he also talked to a friend who is involved with Snack Pak 4 Kids, a nonprofit organization that provides students with reliable, nutritious food over the weekend so they can succeed in school.
Along with the need for health care for the uninsured, Keister said he came to realize that two thirds of students in the Amarillo Independent School District are on free or reduced lunch programs.
Keister said Heal the City has about 400 volunteers on its roster with over 100 local medical professionals who volunteer their time.
He said Heal the City is much more than just reaching individual patients.
Improving the health of an individual often improves the health of his or her family, he said.
“A lot of the patients we see are a ticking time bomb who will ultimately become a bigger burden on society,” he said. “We want to make them flourish. We have people show up with out-of-control diabetes. One of them is a single mom. She started taking better care of herself and eating better. Now she has changed her entire family’s diet and her daughter has lost weight.”
Keister called Heal the City an “amazing thing” and is grateful for the support it has received by the community and local foundations.
“This is all because of the generosity of the Panhandle community,” he said.