New Brunswick

Patients could be dropped from Fredericton clinic when family doctor leaves

Dr. Linda Ugrin, a family doctor at the Fredericton Northside Health Centre told patients she'll be leaving the clinic, and that if another family doctor isn't hired by the end of October, they'll all be dropped from the clinic's care.

Dr. Linda Ugrin sent letters to patients saying she's closing her family practice

Dr. Linda Ugrin told her patients she'll be closing her family practice at Horizon Health Network's Fredericton Northside Health Centre on Oct. 28, leaving her patients to find a new doctor if the centre can't replace her. (Horizon Health Network)

Carrie Brewer has had steady access to a family doctor for 18 years, but that could change in just a few months.

Her physician, Dr. Linda Ugrin, sent them a letter Wednesday saying she's leaving her family practice at the Fredericton Northside Health Centre on Oct. 28 , and if no new physician is hired, Brewer and Ugrin's other patients will be dropped from the clinic.

"I don't believe that they're going to find somebody in that amount of time," said Brewer.

"I actually think I'm going to be a couple of years without a doctor, like the average person who's put on that Patient Connect wait list, which I did register for yesterday when I got the letter."

In her letter, Ugrin said she's closing her family medicine practice and transitioning to a hospitalist role in Fredericton.

Dr. Linda Ugrin has told her patients they may no longer be patients at the Fredericton Northside Health Centre once she leaves on Oct. 28. (Submitted by Carrie Brewer)

"This means that I will no longer be your family physician and you will no longer be a patient at Horizon's Fredericton Northside Community Health Centre after October 28, 2022," Ugrin wrote in the letter.

Ugrin said Horizon is actively recruiting to find a physician to join the health centre and if the health authority finds one, or if Ugrin is able to transfer her patients to another primary care provider, they will receive a phone call to notify them.

Ugrin recommended patients register immediately with Patient Connect N.B., an online portal that lets New Brunswickers sign up to receive a primary care provider. 

Recent figures from the Department of Health show more than 63,000 people have registered and are on a waiting list.

Last fall, former health minister Dorothy Shephard made access to primary care a main pillar in her new health plan.

The plan promised to eliminate the Patient Connect N.B. list by the end of September, and have it replaced by the New Brunswick Primary Care Network, which the plan said would allow anyone without a doctor or nurse practitioner to access one in a timely manner while waiting for a longer-term placement.

In an email, a Health Department spokesperson said the government is transitioning people to the primary care network, "offering them care from a network of family physicians and nurse practitioners until they can be permanently placed with their own primary care provider. Those who have been waiting the longest are being given priority."

Previous experience losing doctor

Brewer said it's not her first experience losing her family doctor at the centre, however this time is different.

On three previous occasions she and other patients were told their doctor was leaving, but were assured they'd remain members at the clinic and would be cared for by another doctor if a replacement wasn't found in time.

Carrie Brewer received the letter from Ugrin on Wednesday, and fears she could now be without a family doctor for more than a year. (Submitted by Carrie Brewer)

"Every time a doctor has left, I've gotten a letter from that doctor saying, you know, 'It's been a pleasure being your doctor, I'm moving on, and you will be assigned a new doctor in the clinic.'"

"Most times it was one that was already there. Other times it was one that was just coming in."

CBC News is waiting for a response from Horizon Health Network about the number of patients affected by Ugrin leaving her practice, and the health authority's efforts to replace her.

On its website, Horizon says the centre has a collaborative team made up of six physicians, a nurse practitioner, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and administrative support staff.

The centre was once known as the Gibson Health Centre before Horizon moved its location to the Brookside Mall in 2021.

Complex medical needs

Brewer said she suffers from a long list of physical and mental conditions including type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder.

And while Ugrin has assured patients that their prescriptions will be refilled for up to a year after she leaves, Brewer said having timely access to a primary care provider is essential to her.

"My main fear is that my health is going to get worse while I'm waiting to get another doctor," she said, adding she's already been waiting a year for a mental health clinician.

"So now I just feel like I'm being stranded."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aidan Cox

Journalist

Aidan Cox is a journalist for the CBC based in Fredericton. He can be reached at aidan.cox@cbc.ca and followed on Twitter @Aidan4jrn.

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