Michael Bennett, Small-Town Doctor Who Pushed for Masks, Dies at 52
His death leaves only one family physician in Greenfield, Mo. He died of complications of Covid-19.,
This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
For the past 15 years, there were only two family physicians in Greenfield, Mo., a town with 1,371 residents about 40 miles northwest of Springfield. One of them was Dr. Michael Bennett, who opened his practice, the Greenfield Medical Center, in 2005.
He was a vigorous proponent of wearing masks and of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, though he faced resistance to his calls from some townspeople, and he offered free Covid-19 testing to his patients with funding help from the federal C.A.R.E.S. Act.
Dr. Bennet took precautions in treating infected patients but nevertheless tested positive for the coronavirus in late December. He was soon hospitalized in St. Louis and spent 50 days connected to a ventilator and an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), a machine that acts as an artificial lung. He died of Covid-19 on March 6, his former wife, Teresa Bennett, said. He was 52.
Since the start of the pandemic, Dade County, Mo., where Greenfield is situated, has recorded 715 positive tests and 31 deaths, most of the fatalities nursing home residents, according to Pamela Cramer, the administrator of the county health department. “It’s really hit us, but not as hard as other areas,” she said on Wednesday.
Nationwide, 452,706 health care workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 1,505 have died as of March 26, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Michael Keith Bennett was born on Feb. 15, 1969, in New London, Mo., in the northeast part of the state. His father, Bob, was a farmer; his mother, Meredith (Arnold) Bennett, most recently helped manage her son’s clinic.
A head injury from a car accident when he was in high school changed Dr. Bennett’s career path.
“He was hurt pretty badly, and during that stay in the hospital he decided he wanted to be a doctor,” Ms. Bennett said by phone. “He was into auto mechanics before that.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Missouri in Columbia, he received his medical degree from its medical school. And after finishing his residency at Cox Medical Center South in Springfield, he worked at St John’s Hospital in nearby Willard, Mo.
In addition to his medical practice, which has been shuttered, Dr. Bennett had a 500-acre farm with beef cattle, and he enjoyed fishing and hunting.
“I think one of the reasons his patients loved him is he was a good old boy,” said Ms. Bennett, who managed her former 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 county official, and suggested to her last year that the town adopt a mask-wearing mandate after several Covid-related nursing home deaths. But the idea did not advance.
After learning that Dr. Bennett had tested positive for Covid-19, Ms. Cramer tried to stay in contact. In his final text to her from the hospital, on Jan. 8, he wrote: “I’m hanging in there. Will stay in touch.”