Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times Pediatrician Gabriel Barrio teases nurse Shaulana Lujan at Pediatric Associates of Whidbey Island last week. After 10 years at the Oak Harbor practice, the good-humored doctor left to take a position with an Othello clinic.

Patients, coworkers say they’ll miss departing Oak Harbor pediatrician

It’s not often a patient forgets a doctor’s name.

But when patients couldn’t remember Dr. Gabriel Barrio’s name when calling Pediatric Associates of Whidbey Island, they never forgot his personality.

“They’d say, ‘Can I see the funny one?’” Barrio said.

Barrio wears his sense of humor like a badge of honor. It gets him, and his patients, through some rough patches.

“I utilize fun all day long,” he said. “It’s fun to have fun. It’s healing, too.”

Then, he adds a caveat — “As long as it’s kind.”

Barrio’s big heart and wit will be missed at Pediatric Associates of Whidbey Island, according to his colleagues.

After 10 years in Oak Harbor, Barrio is following a dream to practice medicine in rural Eastern Washington, in the small Adams County city of Othello.

He accepted a position with Columbia Basin Health Association.

It’s been a longtime dream of Barrio’s to serve farmworkers and their families in a community with a largely Hispanic population, which Othello has.

“I grew up speaking Spanish and I wanted to work with a Spanish-speaking population. That’s my first language,” said Barrio, who’s from northern California.

“It turns out they’re a model rural health clinic.”

Barrio’s decision to leave had somewhat of a ripple effect on Whidbey Island.

“The whole community is in mourning,” said Debby Leffler, an advanced registered nurse practitioner who recently joined the practice. “Even people on the south end.”

“He’s a good doctor and a good person,” added Marisol Bernal-Garcia, whose four children were among his patients. “He treats us like we are his family.”

Pediatric Associates of Whidbey Island held a goodbye party for Barrio Saturday while also welcoming Leffler to the office, located on Cabot Drive.

Though he’s leaving the Oak Harbor practice, Barrio said he isn’t saying goodbye completely to the island. Barrio’s love of Whidbey, the practice he co-owned and relationships he developed with patients made the decision to leave difficult and led to a compromise.

Barrio will have two households — one in Othello and the other in Coupeville, where his family is staying.

“Working here I have been honored to have been able to take care of Navy families,” said Barrio, who went to medical school at Stanford University. “I have been quite humbled by what they do for our country and what their families put up with.

“I have four kids, the youngest still in high school, (and) he doesn’t want to move. He’ll stay here. My wife will stay with him,” Barrio explained.

“I will go on a four-day deployment to Othello and work and go back home.”

Barrio, 56, said his goal is to work this schedule for 10 years, then return full-time to Whidbey and retire.

Some people have raised eyebrows when Barrio has shared that plan with them, but he’s used to that.

“One of my colleagues at the hospital said she’ll give me 10 weeks,” he said.

Barrio’s sense of humor has extended beyond his patients, surfacing around the other practitioners and staff members on occasion.

But being funny goes with the territory of pediatricians, he would argue. Michele Gasper, a pediatrician at the practice, said Barrio is in his own league.

“Gabe is at the top of the pile,” she said.