Dr. Randall D. Gehle of Belmont has never forgotten what it is like to go to war for his country, to be separated from family and loved ones, to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice as a part of his military duty.
Indeed the memory of his time as a surgeon for the 3rd Battalion Second Marines during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990-91 is his primary motivator in his position as chief of staff for both the W.G. Hefner Veterans Administration Medical Center in Salisbury and the Veterans Administration Health Care Center in Charlotte.
Many Gaston County residents will remember Gehle from his time as a family physician with CaroMont Family Medicine in McAdenville from 1996 until late in 2013.
Others may know him from his continuing service as an attending physician providing rotating weekend coverage for the Robin Johnson Hospice House in Dallas.
But as he talks about his career and his current position, it is to his passion for Veterans and for seeing that they receive the best care possible that he keeps returning.
“We want to set a tone here,” Gehle said of the Salisbury and Charlotte facilities. “A tone of Veterans caring for Veterans. A tone of Veterans doing what is right for Veterans. A tone of compassion and support.”
That passion prompted Gehle to leave his successful private practice eight years ago.
“I had always wanted to be a small town doctor,” said Gehle, who received his bachelor of science degree in microbiology from the University of Florida and his doctor of osteopathic medicine degree from the Southeastern College of Osteopathic Medicine in North Miami Beach, Florida.
“But even when I was in private practice,” he continued, “I loved taking care of Veterans. Making sure they received the very best care available.”
Joining the staff of the W.G. Heffner Veterans Administration Medical Center in Salisbury as a primary care physician in November of 2013 allowed Gehle to be on board when the Charlotte Veterans Administration Health Care Center opened in 2016.
The Charlotte facility is a gleaming, five-story edifice that sits on a 35-acre site surrounded by nearly 2,000 parking spaces.
The center offers more than 20 different medical specialties to patients, including primary care, cardiology, behavioral health, rehabilitative therapy, and oncology.
Although the center encompasses more than 425,000 square feet, Gehle emphasized that it is designed to be accessible and user-friendly.
“The entire facility is built around the idea of keeping patients and their family members comfortable at the center,” Gehle said. “Clinics and diagnostic centers are grouped like ‘neighborhoods’ that are warm and welcoming.”
Indeed as Gehle shows off the facility with a quick tour, a visitor is impressed with the artwork which highlights the natural beauty of North Carolina, with each floor devoted to separate geographical regions of the state.
The outside of the Charlotte center features a wellness garden, external courtyards, natural lighting and water fountains, all designed, Gehle said, to enhance the healing environment.
The shining new medical center stands in sharp contrast to the often outdated and rather shabby facilities that served Veterans back in the 1970s and 1980s. But that, Gehle emphasized, is exactly as it should be.
“Veterans Administration health care is not some sort of charity program,” Gehle said. “This is health care that these men and women have paid for. This is health care that they have earned with their minds, their bodies, their sweat, and their blood.”
Referring back to his service in the first Gulf War more than 30 years ago, Gehle said, “Those memories stay with me. The surgery, the oil fires. Being separated from home with no communication. I know what military families have been through.
“All Veterans are my family,” he continued. “We are all brothers and sisters in combat. I honor and embrace the reality of what their service meant to them and to our country.”
Although the hours of his job are long as he shuttles between Charlotte and Salisbury, Gehle said he finds his work “incredibly fulfilling, mainly because I’m working with men and women who give 100 percent every day.”
Indeed, Gehle still takes time away from his administrative duties each week to see and serve patients as a primary care physician.
“I don’t want to separate myself from that work,” he said in explanation. “I still want that contact. I still want to be a working doctor.”
Asked if he had a message for Gaston County Veterans, Gehle replied, “Take advantage of your benefits and your eligibility. We’re a 20-minute drive from most of Gaston County.”
Gehle also urged Veterans to never think they don’t deserve their care or that they might be taking care away from others.
“The more Veterans we serve, the more Veterans we are able to serve,” he said. “Let us be a part of your care. Let us be a part of your life. You have earned it.”