A longtime medical clinic in Kingston will be shutting its doors in May, leaving approximately 8,000 patients without a family doctor at a time when the city is already experiencing a shortage of physicians. A notice posted last week by Frontenac Medical Associates (791 Princess Street) stated that six of the clinic’s eight doctors would be retiring on May 26, 2023, and that the clinic “will cease operations at that time as well.”
“We have been aware of the upcoming retirements, and we have been actively trying to recruit for the last three years,” said Dr. Lili Mileva, one of the two physicians who is not retiring in May. “That includes being in contact with different agencies that find physicians from abroad or here. We’ve been advertising to many of the family physician journals and other local and national magazines. We’ve had a dinner and visit with the residents that are finishing [medical school] soon… [all of which] has led to no success.”
According to Mileva, she and one other doctor will continue seeing a roster of approximately 2,000 patients out of a small wing in the clinic’s current space once the rest of the physicians retire later this spring. While the two doctors have tried to take on as many new patients as possible, the reality is that, with six family physicians retiring, thousands more people will now be added to the list of Kingstonians already in search of a doctor.
“I feel sad that I cannot help everyone. And I need to say no, just as self-preservation: it’s not humanly possible to take thousands of patients,” Mileva said.
As for how patients were informed of the pending shutdown, Dr. Nicholas Cristoveanu said he has been bringing it up to his various patients over the past three years. “Patients have asked; they’ve been in and they say, ‘Will you retire? When are you retiring?’ They’ve been around a lot of years. So once I had a reasonable date in mind, then if they asked, I would tell them.”
Formally, the doctors were required to give their patients three months notice that the clinic would be shutting down, so the retiring physicians sent out emails and hard-copy letters beginning in January. As Cristoveanu explained, “We had a plan in place for what happens to their charts, what happens to their care, that sort of thing… We were hoping, as we went along… that we would have a transition, somebody coming in to take our place. Hence we weren’t too firm about letting them know until we were in that crunch mode.”
Many patients were informed of the pending closure earlier this year; Kingstonist did review one email that was sent out on January 20, 2023. But not everyone got the news that way. Some learned about the shutdown through friends and family or through posts to social media.
Tracey Graves has been a patient at Frontenac Medical since 2006, and she only learned of the upcoming shutdown when a friend posted a picture of the notice online. “I saw a post shared on Facebook by a friend; it was a memo posted in the [clinic’s] elevator. [I was] stunned that, as a patient of one of those physicians, I wasn’t informed,” Graves said.
Cristoveanu did confirm that, despite the clinic’s best efforts, some patients may not have received the notice, either due to a change in address or a problem with their email. “We’ve certainly had various reports back [saying things] like ‘My relative got a letter, [but] I didn’t get a letter’… That might be due to things with addresses that didn’t match up. If someone hadn’t been in for a while, they may have had an address change and we didn’t know about it… [But] it wasn’t meant to happen that way.”
With a majority of the clinic’s patient roster now without a reliable primary care provider, the notice of closure included information for those wishing to join a “waiting list for a new family doctor.” Yet, other than a phone number and a website link, patients have seemingly been provided with no other guidance or assistance.
According to Dr. Joy Hataley, one of the clinic’s part-time physicians and District 7 chair at the Ontario Medical Association, many of the patients will likely have a difficult time finding a family doctor in the near future.
Hataley said, “A handful of those people will be lucky enough to find a family physician, maybe through their relatives or if they have a [special] need and someone happens to run across them and take them on. But the vast majority of those patients will join the already robust cohorts in our community who don’t have a family physician.”
Graves shared the difficulties she’s encountered while seeking a new physician. “For personal reasons, I had already started to enquire [about a new doctor], but there is a long waitlist… I contacted the phone number provided to put my name on the list… and was told I had to contact Service Ontario to end my engagement with my doctor and the clinic, [something that was] not on the memo. Then you have to wait for 10 days to call the number again in order to be placed on the waitlist.”
In addition, Graves said she has faced challenges trying to access her medical records. The clinic’s notice gave a phone number and email address for Record Storage and Retrieval Services Inc. (RSRS), a Toronto-based company specializing in the storage of medical records. Graves said, “I called the phone number on the memo for my medical records. There is a charge [of] close to $100 for your past 13-year medical history; if you would like to go beyond that, it’s $40… Although already paid for, [the medical records] are not released until the clinic closes [and] the doctor retires in May.”
Graves added that she is concerned about finding a family doctor in the near future. “Some of [my] health issues require annual [or] biannual blood work, X-rays, ultrasounds, and followups. Since we don’t have a walk-in clinic with steady physicians, I will have to continue to make appointments with unknowns and carry my medical charts with me on a USB stick.”
“Our health care is in serious trouble, [with] many doctors leaving the city [or] retiring,” Graves remarked. “Closing clinics is not the answer. COVID changed how everything was handled — and sadly, as patients, we suffer the consequences.”
The City of Kingston has been experiencing a shortage of family physicians for several years. In 2021, Kingston City Council approved a Family Physician Recruitment Incentive Program, which officially launched in 2022 and has already helped bring nine new physicians to the city. Now, with Frontenac Medical Associates shutting its doors this May, many more Kingstonians will now be added to the pool of patients needing a family physician.