Michael Bennett, Small-Town Doctor Who Pushed for Masks, Dies at 52

This obituary is part of a series about people who died from the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

For the past 15 years, Greenfield, Missouri, a town of 1,371 people about 40 miles northwest of Springfield, had only two general practitioners. One of them was Dr. Michael Bennett, who opened his practice, Greenfield Medical Center, in 2005.

A staunch advocate of wearing masks and social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, although he encountered opposition to his calls from some city residents, he offered his patients free Covid-19 tests with financial support from federal CARES law.

Dr. Bennet took precautions when treating infected patients, but tested positive for the coronavirus in late December. He was soon hospitalized in St. Louis and spent 50 days on a ventilator and an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), a machine that acts as an artificial lung. He died of Covid-19 on March 6, said former wife Teresa Bennett. He was 52 years old.

Pamela Cramer, the county health department administrator, has seen 715 positive tests and 31 deaths since the pandemic began in Dade County, Missouri, where Greenfield is located. “It really hit us, but not as hard as in other areas,” she said on Wednesday.

Nationwide, 452,706 health care workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 1,505 died on March 26, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Michael Keith Bennett was born on February 15, 1969 in New London in the northeast of the state. His father Bob was a farmer; His mother, Meredith (Arnold) Bennett, most recently helped run her son’s clinic.

A head injury from a high school car accident changed Dr. Bennett’s career path.

“He got pretty badly injured, and during that stay in the hospital he decided he wanted to be a doctor,” Ms. Bennett said over the phone. “Before that he was a car mechanic.”

After graduating from the University of Missouri at Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in biology, he received his medical degree from the medical school. After completing his stint at Cox Medical Center South in Springfield, he worked at St. John’s Hospital in nearby Willard, Missouri.

In addition to his doctor’s office being closed, Dr. Bennett ran a 500-acre cattle ranch, and he loved fishing and hunting.

“I think one of the reasons his patients loved him is because he was a good old boy,” said Ms. Bennett, who ran her ex-husband’s practice until 2012 when they divorced.

In addition to his parents, he is survived by his son Austin; his daughter Shelby Bennett; his sister Veronica Bennett; his brother Damon; and his girlfriend Haley Hendrixson.

Dr. Bennett worked closely with Ms. Cramer, the district official, and suggested to her last year that the city take on a mask mandate after several Covid-related deaths in nursing homes. But the idea didn’t make any headway.

After Mrs. Cramer learned that Dr. Bennett had tested positive for Covid-19, she tried to keep in touch. In his last text to her from the hospital on January 8th, he wrote: “I’m sticking to it. Stay in touch. “

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