UnityPoint brings neurosurgery services to Dubuque

For the first time in decades, Dubuque will count neurosurgery among the medical services available to residents, beginning at the end of the month.

Dr. Catherine Miller, formerly an assistant professor at University of California San Francisco, will lead UnityPoint Clinic Neurosurgery, located at Delhi Medical Center, beginning Monday, Oct. 31.

Her move to Dubuque marks the first time since the 1990s that the tri-state area has had access to a local neurosurgeon, according to officials at UnityPoint Health-Finley Hospital.

“Absolutely there’s a need here, not only in Dubuque but also the tri-states,” said Finley President and CEO Chad Wolbers. “This is going to be a big regional draw.”

Miller’s arrival fills a long-standing gap in available local care for a host of conditions involving the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves. That can include brain tumors, aneurysms and a host of spinal injuries.

Previously, residents would have to travel to the Quad Cities, Iowa City or Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to seek treatment.

“To be able to provide them with that kind of care at home is a thrill,” Wolbers said.

Miller’s clinic will focus on spinal conditions and treatment, specifically minimally invasive spine surgery, for which she completed a fellowship at UCSF, a press release states.

This kind of surgery is a departure from historic spinal surgery, which often consisted of a protracted operation followed by a much longer recovery period.

“There’s been a kind of paradigm shift in spinal surgery, so it’s not the terrible thing people expect it to be,” Miller said.

She said she expects initially to focus on spinal care as the clinic gets up and running before expanding more broadly to a host of brain and nervous system treatments.

In addition to heading the clinic, Miller will serve on-call in the emergency room. She also will be expected to work alongside orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists an anesthesiologists specializing in pain management.

Dr. Tim Miller, who works in the pain clinic at the Delhi Medical Center, said he expects his new colleague’s skillset to help his clinic make more informed decisions and to move clients faster to the most appropriate care.

“We’re going to really relish that because we’re going to have a regular resource for something we would have had to go to Iowa City for,” Tim Miller said. “It’ll really provide a level of expertise we haven’t had in a long time.”

The pain clinic is expected to overlap considerably with neurosurgery, given the number of patients he treats with back pain and related spinal issues.

A Galena, Ill., native, Catherine Miller is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, received her medical training at Rush University Medical Center and completed her neurosurgery fellowship at University of Minnesota.

Before coming to Dubuque, she practiced in a community hospital north of San Francisco, in addition to teaching.

She said she has returned to the tri-state area to be closer to her family, many of whom still live in the area, and she also was drawn by the sense of purpose brought by reviving neurosurgery in the area.

“I felt like I’d be very useful,” Miller said. “I’d actually be providing service for the area.”

Demand for her services already has started to roll in. Speaking early Wednesday afternoon, Miller already had received seven referrals since 10 a.m.

“It’s a great ‘hometown kid makes good’ story,” Wolbers said.