Pictured here at the Ville Platte Civic Center from left to right are Ville Platte Rotary President Wayne Vidrine, Savoy Medical Center Physician Liaison and Rotarian Jackie Riche’, Dr. Francisco Cantu, Savoy Chief Nursing Officer Laurie Manuel, and Savoy Clinic Manager for the five Savoy Family Care clinics Jeff Langtston. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
Rotary gets medical attention
New medical programs at South Louisiana Community College’s CB Coreil Campus and a family practice physician returning to Ville Platte were featured at the first two May meetings of the Ville Platte Rotary Club.
Lana Fontenot, who is the associate chancellor of SLCC and executive director of the SLCC Foundation, told the Rotary Club that her college serves around 13,000 students a year since its merger in 2012 with the vocational-technical colleges. To date, SLCC currently has nine campuses and has expanded its footprint into the Morgan City and Houma area.
“We can offer classes and whole and associate degree programs that transfer to a four-year university,” Fontenot stated. “Students can come to SLCC for their first two years and then can transfer over as a junior to a four-year university.”
She described some of the traditional programs that are offered at SLCC such as welding, practical nurse, registered nurse, and non-destructive tester. “We have a non-destructive testing program at our Opelousas campus that is a one-year program,” said Fontenot. “It’s testing the integrity of a material without destroying it, so you can use it in construction, in the oil field, in aerospace, or in amusement park equipment. It’s when you want to make sure the thing is not going to break on you.”
She continued, “After 12 months of college, the students are typically starting out at around $50 or $60 thousand and within a few years, especially for those who travel, will make well into six figures. That’s the power of these technical trades. You’re definitely making just as much if not more than some folks with bachelor’s degrees.”
Fontenot told the Rotary Club about new programs that will be offered at the Coreil Campus here in Ville Platte. One of which is a commercial truck driving program.
“We have one in Crowley and Morgan City, and we’re looking at expanding it into Ville Platte,” Fontenot said. “We’re getting workforce data, and we’re getting interest from different students. We’re making sure we have enough to form our first class, and we hope to be able to offer that to the community.”
“It is a seven-week program,” she added. “After seven weeks, there’s a near 100-percent job placement rate. These companies are on our campus before these individuals are graduating, and these individuals typically have two or three job offers before they even graduate. We also have a 10-week night program.”
Another new program that will be offered here in Ville Platte is for certified nursing assistants. “These are workers who, along with LPNs and RNs, go into hospitals, doctor’s offices, and nursing homes and are able to assist patients,” said Fontenot. “We’re working on some approvals of the program with the state Department of Health and Hospitals.”
SLCC in New Iberia, according to Fontenot, now offers a pilot program. “Not only do we train folks in aviation maintenance, but we do have the pilot component as well,” she said. “We’re looking actively at adding fixed wing.”
With the continued cuts by the state in higher education, Fontenot advised the Rotary Club that her college actively looks for endowments, program investments, equipment donations, and scholarships to supplement the costs for prospective students.
A week later, while meeting at the Ville Platte Civic Center because of a scheduling conflict at the Family Life Center, the Rotary Club heard from Dr. Francisco Cantu, who is returning to Ville Platte to practice family medicine through the Savoy Family Care clinic on Lincoln Road.
He gave his medical background that started in Mexico in 1958. “I went to medical school at 16 in 1958 and graduated in 1964 at 22,” Dr. Cantu said. “In Mexico, I had to serve an internship of social service for free before taking the course to become a physician. When I received my degree in 1966, I came to the United States as a student with a student visa. That student visa was given after taking an exam for foreign medical graduates with a failure rate of 40-percent. Whoever made it was allowed to go as a student to further their medical training and become a specialist.”
Dr. Cantu continued to share that he did his specialist training in Baltimore, Md. “I went to become an internal medicine doctor, and, after a year of internal medicine, I changed my mind,” he said. “It was too boring, so, then, I decided to go into surgery.”
He did his surgical residency in Tucson, Ariz., and began working as a general surgeon for a mining company in the middle of the desert. A prior change to his visa status allowed him to obtain a visa as an immigrant. Five years after becoming a surgeon, Dr. Cantu was able to become a United States citizen in 1976 during the country’s bicentennial.
Dr. Cantu’s eventual arrival in Ville Platte was sparked while visiting a Humana Hospital booth around the time he took his citizenship pledge in Phoenix. “I put in an application, and, the next day, I heard from the administrator of Humana to visit Ville Platte,” he expressed. “After I came and visited Ville Platte, I moved to Ville Platte in 1976.”
Since that time, Dr. Cantu has been providing services of general surgery and family practice. He said, “I delivered babies and did any kind of surgery like C-sections.”
He retired from major surgery in 2008 and still did family practice before going to work for the Shumacher Group in the emergency room of Mercy Hospital for five years. Then Pat Derouen, the acting administrator of Savoy Medical Center, offered Dr. Cantu a family practice position. “I eventually accepted his offer, and I’d been at Mamou Family Care since 2013,” he told the Rotary Club.
He continued, “Recently, I was offered to come back to Ville Platte, so, as of May 15, I’m going to be available at my old office on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’m going to be in Mamou on Mondays and Wednesdays. That could not be possible without the help of the very talented nurse practitioner Nikki Toussaint. She and I are going to be rotating between Mamou and Ville Platte.”
The most important thing for Dr. Cantu on returning to Ville Platte is seeing “some familiar faces that I used to see.”