Dr. Lloyd Thompson could have retired 20 years ago, but the ear, nose and throat specialist wouldn’t turn his back on his patients.
Many were low-income, minority residents of East St. Louis, Centreville, Sauget and other communities that have trouble attracting young doctors, especially those looking to earn enough money to pay off six-figure student loans.
“We are still trying to find someone to take over the practice, but we have not been able to,” said Thompson, 83, who finally retired June 26 after more than 50 years in medicine.
“It’s difficult for someone to come to a practice in the inner city. It’s a poor community, and you can’t support a specialty practice, really.”
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Thompson’s send-off lasted all week. Patients, doctors, nurses and office employees showed up for emotional going-away parties at Touchette Regional Hospital in Centreville and its Archview Medical Specialists building in Sauget.
Archview has been Thompson’s home base in recent years. At its party, staff decorated with colors of the Jamaican flag — green, black and gold — and had Jamaican food catered in honor of his homeland.
“I came here because I wanted to thank him for staying in the community and taking care of us,” said Girthia Payton, 69, of East St. Louis, a former operating-room nurse who worked with Thompson and also saw him as a patient.
“He really could have gone anywhere in his field, but he chose to stay here. He has a heart. He has a heart for the people. He wasn’t interested in getting rich. We love Dr. Thompson, and he has shown his love for us.”
I wanted to thank him for staying in the community and taking care of us. He really could have gone anywhere in his field, but he chose to stay here. ... He wasn’t interested in getting rich.
Girthia Payton on Dr. Lloyd Thompson
Dorothy Diggs, 78, of East St. Louis, described Thompson as a doctor who really got to know patients and cared about their overall well-being, not just their medical problems.
“He helped my son when he was getting ready to go to college as far as information, and he wrote him a letter,” said Diggs, an operating-room nurse and patient. “He’s your doctor, but he’s also a friend.”
Thompson estimates he treated more than 40,000 patients, including four generations of some families.
He operated offices in East St. Louis and Belleville and worked at St. Mary’s Hospital (later Kenneth Hall) and Christian Welfare in East St. Louis; St. Elizabeth’s and Memorial in Belleville; Barnes-Jewish, Cardinal Glennon and Firmin Desloge (now St. Louis University Hospital) in St. Louis; and Centreville Township (later Touchette).
“People will come in and say, ‘He took my tonsils out 20 years ago,’” said Archview clinical service representative Betty Rule, 61, of Fairview Heights, who worked 35 years for Thompson. “He has taken out lots of tonsils.”
Thompson’s longest-serving nurse, Valerita Miles, also is from Jamaica. He hired her in 1971 — a year after opening his first office at 4601 State St. in East St. Louis — and she’s still on the job.
Thompson earned great loyalty among employees. He took them out for birthdays, bought them souvenirs on vacation and showed up for holiday parties with jerk chicken and other Jamaican dishes.
“He’s a really sweet guy and very dedicated,” said former clinical supervisor Carol Guthrie, of Collinsville. “He wouldn’t miss work for anything. He’s very concerned about his patients and his employees. He wants to make sure everybody is treated fairly.”
Thompson stopped doing head and neck plastic surgery in 2009. He recently cut back to two days a week in the office.
He lives in St. Louis with his wife, Mercerdee, a trained sociologist. They have a daughter, Arie, an actress in California; a son, Damon, a computer specialist at Duke University in North Carolina; and two grandchildren. Thompson’s main hobby is golf.
“He’s just an awesome person,” said Delores Miller, 76, of Swansea, a patient since the ’70s. “He’s kind. He loves to talk. He gives you attention. He gives you as much time as you need. When he waits on you, it’s just you. He won’t be disturbed. He’s a good doctor.”
Thompson was a linotype operator and community college student in Jamaica before he moved to the United States in 1957 with hopes of becoming a doctor.
“I applied to several medical schools, but I didn’t have any money, so I went to Howard,” he said, referring to the historically black university in Washington, D.C. “It was a little less expensive and as good as any for people of color, so it was a godsend for me.”
Next came an internship at Mount Sinai Hospital in Milwaukee and specialist training at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis with Washington University faculty, including renowned cancer surgeon Dr. Joseph Ogura.
Phillips, the city’s only black hospital from 1937 to 1955, was a national training ground for black doctors and nurses.
“After I got board-certified, I came to East St. Louis in 1970 because there was at that time a great need,” said Thompson, noting many of the city’s doctors had moved to Belleville.
“There was no ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctor in East St. Louis. In fact, there were only two board-certified, modern ENTs in all of Southern Illinois. There was Dr. Jerome in Belleville, and Dr. Thompson in East St. Louis. But we covered for each other.”
In the early 1980s, Thompson moved his East St. Louis office to St. Mary’s and opened a second office in Belleville, where he practiced for 18 years. His patients were about half black and half white, half private pay and half public aid. A few couldn’t pay at all.
Why was Thompson willing to treat so many people with no money?
“That’s who I am,” he said. “How could I not? ... It wasn’t just me. There were many of us, African American doctors who were trained at Homer Phillips, who had a commitment to service.”
St. Mary’s was known as Kenneth Hall Regional when it closed in 2011. Thompson continued practicing with its sister hospital, Touchette.
There does not seem to be the personal, one-on-one interaction between doctors and their patients. We’ve come to blame insurance, but that’s not entirely true. People have changed and circumstances have changed.
Dr. Lloyd Thompson on changes in medicine
Over the years, he held the positions of chief of staff at St. Mary’s and Christian Welfare and chief of surgery at St. Mary’s. He also served as president of St. Clair County Medical Society and Southern Illinois Medical Association.
“I’m a member of the NMA,” Thompson said, speaking of the National Medical Association, a black version of the American Medical Association. “At one time, the AMA did not accept black members, you know.”
Looking back over five decades, Thompson calls advancements in surgery “mind-boggling.” But he points to the doctor-patient relationship as perhaps the biggest change in medicine.
“There does not seem to be the personal, one-on-one interaction between doctors and their patients,” he said. “We’ve come to blame insurance, but that’s not entirely true. People have changed and circumstances have changed.”