Paul Caruso, M.D., has lived in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, since 1999. “Southeast Hospital is a great place to work,” says Caruso. And he would know. After spending time away from southeastern Missouri, Caruso couldn’t wait to get back. “I took five years off from working here to move to California to complete my fellowship in neonatology. After practicing in California for one year, my wife and I decided to move back. We both preferred living in the Midwest.”
Cape Girardeau is very family friendly. In fact, Caruso says, “That’s one of the main reasons we wanted to move back. It’s a great place for children to grow up. There’s a full array of private schools for all the religious denominations, but the public school system, Cape Girardeau Public Schools, is very good. Our kids go to the public schools and they’re getting a great education.”
Both personally and professionally, Caruso has a passion for helping children.Today, he is the medical director of neonatology at Southeast Hospital, and he and his wife have nine children.
“My wife and I became involved in foster care when we moved to southeast Missouri,” Caruso says. “Kids are my life. I spend most of my free time at home with my wife and kids. If you’re going to catch me in the evening, I’m going to be sitting on the floor playing with the kids or playing cards with the older kids.”
Caruso’s wife also works for Southeast Hospital. She is a psychiatrist who works weekends for the hospital’s inpatient mental health unit.
“SoutheastHEALTH is definitely a family-oriented organization,” says Tatianna Parham, a recruiter for SoutheastHEATH, which runs Southeast Hospital, many outpatient clinics and three smaller hospitals in the southeastern Missouri area. “People are welcoming and warm,” she says. “People take time to get to know each other.”
Cape Girardeau has a population of 40,000 and a daytime population of 100,000 from people commuting to work from other parts of southeastern Missouri. The hospital has an even wider geographic draw. “We are the largest medical market between St. Louis and Memphis, Tennessee, right along the Mississippi,” says Parham. “Our medical population is 675,000 individuals. It’s everybody just north of Memphis and south of Saint Louis, plus people from Illinois, Arkansas and Kentucky. We get a lot of regional pull. We serve five different states’ residents.”
The hospital has 11 neonatologists, two NICUs, two cardiac centers and two cancer centers. Caruso says, “We have state-of-the-art equipment. We have PET scanners. Most surgeons use the da Vinci robot.”
“Not many cities that have a population of 40,000 have the high level of medical expertise that this city has,” says Caruso.
Stacy Lane, director of public relations for Visit Cape Girardeau, says Cape Girardeau combines a small-town friendliness with big-city amenities. That combination extends beyond health care.
“You get to have your cake and eat it, too,” she says. “You get to enjoy a lot of culture and things to do, but you don’t have any of the negatives of living in a city.” Lane notes that young professionals in southeastern Missouri are often able to buy homes. “The cost of living is really affordable. It’s not a barrier to entry for younger folks. My husband and I have a lot of friends in the St. Louis area, and they’re shocked at what we can afford. But if you don’t want to own, there are really neat apartments and condos in the downtown area if you want to enjoy downtown life.”
Cape Girardeau’s downtown scene is both historic and upscale. “We have a thriving downtown with shopping on our historic riverfront. You can park your car on the street and see the neat historic buildings, shop at locally owned boutiques or just enjoy the beautiful banks of the Mississippi River. You can walk right down to the river,” says Lane.
According to Caruso, the area’s high quality of life and low cost of living encourage residents to engage in philanthropy and volunteerism. He says, “It’s amazing the experiences you can have here. …There are a lot of people who are involved in local and national causes. I have friends who are really into medical missions. There’s always a group going to Guatemala or Ethiopia and Haiti that provide health care. There are three or four trips to Haiti a year. There’s also a local organization called Room for One More [Child] that helps families adopt locally and abroad.”
Caruso even has his own nonprofit organization on a mission that hits close to home. He explains, “Five years ago, my wife asked me if we might be interested in starting a home for foster children. This is just one of those things that you feel is possible if you live in Missouri. So we started Hope Children’s Home Jackson, a group home for foster children in Jackson, Missouri. The home has more of a family atmosphere as opposed to an institutional feel. We are able to do this because of the support of our community. There are so many things you can do here that you feel are possible—that in a larger city you may not feel that way.”