As the town of Plains, Ga., celebrates the life of former President Jimmy Carter, one local health care clinic wouldn’t be here without him. 

The primary care clinic is on Main Street in Carter’s hometown. A team of three providers see patients from Plains and surrounding areas, which, like most of Southwest Georgia, is medically underserved. 

Mercer Medicine clinic in Plains, Ga.

Mercer Medicine clinic in Plains, Ga.

Credit: Sofi Gratas/GPB News

Dr. Michael Raines is the only primary care physician in Plains. He’s been in the area for over 30 years. 

“I've got a lot of patients that continue to see me,” Raines said. “And so over the years, you know them. They know you. You feel comfortable with them. They're comfortable with you.

Five years ago, Raines got a call from the Mercer University School of Medicine to come practice in Plains. Former President Jimmy Carter wanted to reopen his hometown clinic, which had closed a few weeks earlier. 

“I mean, we were busy from Day 1, and we continue to stay busy,” Raines said. 

Just over 500 people live in Plains, but Raines said he also sees patients from up to 60 miles away. The nearest emergency room is in neighboring Americus, operated by the Phoebe Putney Health System. 

Since the Plains clinic opened in 2018, Mercer Medicine has opened four more rural clinics in Clay, Harris, Peach and Putnam counties with plans to open another one this year, on Jekyll Island. 

“So that cranked everything into high gear,” said Mercer University spokesperson Larry Brumley, who remembers the opening of the Plains clinic.  “An idea that we had been kicking around for some time about the School of Medicine opening some rural medicine clinics … President Carter really just fast-tracked.” 

Raines said without the Carters’ years of contributions to tourism and the local economy, the town could have fallen by the wayside. 

I mean, he's been a lifesaver for our small town, because most of these small towns are drying up and going away,” Raines said. 

The Carters moved back to Plains in the 1980s. Last weekend, Jimmy Carter, 98, was placed in hospice care at the family’s home there. 

Raines said over the years, he’s not only provided medical care to the former president, but developed a personal relationship with him. They went quail hunting years back when Raines was invited by a colleague of Carter’s. Former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell was there, too. 

“It was interesting, it was fun,” Raines said. “[Carter’s] a pretty good shot. Both of them are.” 

As people swarm the town of Plains to commemorate Carter’s life, Raines remembers him in those simple moments. 

“They know everybody, they’ve been all over the world, they’re famous people,” Raines said. “But you put them out in the woods with a shotgun and quail, and they’re just normal people just like you are.” 

And if there’s anything he wants people to remember Jimmy Carter by, it’s his ability to make others feel normal, too.