Dr. Bill Hunter Gets Prestigious Award

Dr. Bill Hunter

Press release:

Humboldt County family physician Willard M. Hunter, M.D., was awarded the California Medical Association’s (CMA) Frederick K.M. Plessner Memorial Award on Saturday, at the association’s annual House of Delegates meeting in Sacramento. The award honors the California physician who best exemplifies the ethics and practice of a rural country practitioner.

As a graduate of the prestigious UCLA School of Medicine, Dr. Hunter could have gone anywhere to practice family medicine, but he chose rural Humboldt County, where the natural beauty inspired him. In the 1980s, he started his practice in Redway, a town with a population of less than 1,000, at a time when there was a “serious shortage” of obstetrical services.

“When I first started out, I wanted to be a doctor for people who didn’t have a doctor,” said Dr. Hunter.

Dr. Hunter not only delivered babies, but he also set broken bones, treated chain saw injuries and cared for the dying. His talent and versatility have made him a standout to patients and referring physicians alike.

Family medicine is particularly challenging in a rural area, said colleague John A. Montgomery, M.D., a general, vascular and thoracic surgeon. Family practitioners in rural areas must have an extensive and broad knowledge base because it’s hard to refer patients out of the area to specialists. “In this regard, Dr. Hunter is superb,” said Dr. Montgomery. “I have watched him tackle difficult medical problems with logic, tenacity and insight.”

Since 1989, Dr. Hunter has served as medical director of the Open Door Community Health Centers. Through his leadership at Open Door, what was once a small health center for the very poor is now a group of 13 clinics, and three mobile clinics, spread throughout Humboldt and Del Norte counties, serving approximately 50,000 patients a year and employing over 500 members of the community.

Dr. Hunter has also been a key figure in providing compassionate health care to people with HIV. During the 1980s and 90s, with the discovery HIV disease, Dr. Hunter showed true talent in providing state-of-the-art treatment to patients in Humboldt. “He was willing, when many other providers were not, to do what was needed for a desperate and marginalized population,” said colleague Mary Meengs, M.D., who has worked with Dr. Hunter at Open Door for the past 14 years. “He cared for these patients with respect and grace.”

For the past 10 years, Dr. Hunter has also led the Humboldt community’s work in providing medication-assisted treatment for opiate dependent patients. “He took the time to get trained and has remained on the leading edge of national standards,” said Dr. Meengs.

According to 2015 U. S. Census data 21 percent of Humboldt county residents live in poverty — the median household income is $40,000 and the area has a 7.4 unemployment rate. “[Dr. Hunter] had taken on the neediest segment of our population, those without insurance and who are disenfranchised by poverty, geographic isolation, mental illness, and substance dependence. He has provided direct care and been a leader and an inspiration to other providers,” said Dr. Meengs.

This versatile and compassionate man has become a vital part of his North Coast community, providing quality rural care. “We started out taking care of so many marginalized people and now we have become a big part of the primary care network in Northern California,” said Dr. Hunter.

His patients travel long distances to get his care. Many of them dress up, just to see me, he says. “I feel lucky to be a physician,” he said. “I feel honored to be a physician — this is a huge honor and a privilege that I never take for granted.”



  • Dr. Hunter truly deserves this honor. A kind and compassionate man who provides outstanding service to many in our community. Congratulations Bill!

  • Karl Verick RN, PHN

    Dr. Bill. It was been more than an honor and privilege to have worked with you back in the eighties at the hospital in Garberville. It was also a lot of fun. As a new nurse you had a huge influence on my practice of nursing. I learned so much from working with you. Thank you for a life’s work done with compassion and humor. Congratulations.

  • …and he’s a musician! Heard him at the Humboldt County Fair, and I think he even came out to play at one of Dr. Dick’s Cabarets in Petrolia early on. He’s also known as ‘the Tick Doctor’…he knows a lot about Lyme disease.

    Am happy that he’s been honored in this regard! Go, Bill!

  • Dr. Hunter also has a bachelor’s degree in medical economics from Harvard.. Indeed a remarkable man..

  • Very much deserved. Congratulations Dr. Hunter. Not only is he a great physician, he is a great fiddle player and a super nice guy. We miss him a lot down here in SoHum. He is still my wife’s Doctor.

  • Bill’s a great doctor and certainly deserves this honor. I believe he came here earlier than the article says, and he didn’t leave Southern Humboldt until 1998 or 1999.

  • They don’t make doctors like this anymore.

    Bill is a great doctor, a fun and funny person with a tremendously big heart. Bill cares more about people and their well-being than he does about material things or money. He’s a very humble, and witty, kind of guy. And you never know what might happen. If Bill enters the room of a very boring business meeting, he may get everyone singing a tune together in common. He also plays a mean fiddle. He always has lots of energy, a great attitude, and is up to a challenge or two. I wish we had more docs like Dr. Bill.

    Bill was raised in a family where you give back to others for the blessings you’ve received. He was certainly cut from that family cloth, one that highly valued education and hard work coupled with strong guiding principles, high moral character, and underscored by deep and lasting loyalty.

    His dad was a distinguished minister, author and dedicated orator who set a Guinness World Record at the age of 66 with a Fourth of July oration that lasted a whopping 34 hours and 8 minutes outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia, in 1982. And that’s just for starters.

    This award is well-deserved. And Bill, if you know him, is a person of a humbler and higher calling than any award can possibly give.

    Congratulations, and our sincere appreciation goes out to you for being here, Dr. Bill. Thank you for keeping us well– both in body and spirit– for nearly four decades.

  • Well deserved! It was my pleasure to work with you for a short time and I’m sorry I wasn’t up for the task at the time. Congratulations and keep on keeping on! You listen and you care! that means a lot.

  • well deserved!

    Dr Hunter is a model for what doctors should be….all the best to him!

    I first met by playing music with him, he is dang good at that too!

  • Congratulations Doc. Humboldt Co. is blessed to have you here.

  • Dr. Bill has plenty of awful reviews, including from yours truly. Allowed a patient with a broken back to languish for days without x-rays and wouldn’t get out of bed to check on person when they came to E.R. And for me, completely botched blood test results, testing me for wrong things. A lot more people I’ve spoken to feel the same way. It’s like this: if half the people think he’s good and half don’t, that’s a crappy percentage. I’m sure people will discredit this post with good stories about in. That does not take away the bad ones, which are legendary. A good fiddle player does not make a good doctor. He’s a real space-cadet.

  • Im thinking that Dr.Bills work is its own reward,. though it is very important to publicly recognize good works [and bad works],in that possibly it will inspire some other fine souls to follow the Hippocratic code to the best of ones integrity and skill. Dr. bill recognized my broken heart, only because he himself had experienced something similar in his own life, and that set me on the path to be able to forgive. Myself , and others.Dr.Bill Hunter saved my life. And for that i am eternally grateful… Thanks Bill, and your music is medicine. Blessings on you and your family.PEACE

  • Misdiagnosed my wife’s breast cancer as blocked milk ducts (she died within the year). 3 months later we went to Fortuna and within a couple hours they had diagnosed her with the most aggressive breast cancer known and gave her a 20% chance to survive if the following day she terminated her pregnancy, had a full mastectomy and began chemo and radiation. Two weeks after her death I was bitten by something behind my knee and started feeling like I was dying. My friend who worked the rail line in Alderpoint gave me a pamphlet that explained this new Lyme disease and I said that must be what I have. So I asked around and heard that Hunter was the LD expert in the area. He said that I was just depressed that my wife had died. Denied me tratment. A month later I went to the Open Door clinic and he told the Dr. there that I was just depressed. Denied again. 6 months after the bite the first LD clinic in Ukiah said that I was completely infected but it was too late for treatments to be effective. This was 1988 and I have suffered ever since. I say be your own doctor and barely trust any MD especially ones that constantly hit on your, and many others, wives and girlfriends. Just saying. Maybe he can use that bowl to eat my sour grapes!

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