Lora Lee Grutkowski: “This is frontier medicine. Whatever walks in, you own it.”

Nature’s beauty is the backdrop for Lora Lee Grutkowski’s career – and her much-beloved small community.

Two scenic rivers, a lush valley and surrounding mountains provide many activities for residents – and attract many outdoor enthusiasts. The Downieville region is a dream for those who enjoy hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, river rafting and wildlife.

It’s a perfect place to embrace nature, enjoy some down time, and escape the demands of a fast-paced world. The closest “city” is more than an hour away, and much longer during the often-changing winter weather.

“There’s nothing more beautiful than these mountains,” says Grutkowski, Family Nurse Practitioner for Western Sierra Medical Center’s health center in Downieville. “It’s nice to see the rivers and the wildlife. Every season is beautiful.”

But the rural community demands a different approach to health care, where bears are more common than health providers.

Grutkowski, who has been the provider at the health center since 2008, says “This is frontier medicine. Whatever walks in, you own it.”

And she “owns” a lot.

She counsels patients on chronic conditions – from high blood pressure to high cholesterol – handles lab work and immunizations, and offers much-needed urgent care services.

“I provide health care to the community, and promote health and wellness,” says Grutkowski, who has almost four decades of health care experience, including as an emergency room and operating room registered nurse.

Grutkowski is also a mobile intensive care nurse. “I do a lot of suturing and treatment of acute injuries.”

It’s a busy, demanding career, and every day is different. She knows many of the community’s residents and her neighbors, but the thousands of recreation enthusiasts visiting the region bring new faces and health care needs.

“I work very hard and put in long hours,” says Grutkowski, who is on-call when the health center is closed. “It’s all about saving lives and providing excellent health care.”