Hospital Board Holds Special Public Meeting Wednesday

NEWPORT, VT - North Country Hospital CEO Claudio Fort sent a letter last week to 500 of Dr. Leslie Lockridge's patients telling them that the popular and much-loved oncologist would be leaving the hospital employ as of Feb. 10. This has angered the doctor's patients, staff, friends and local elected officials, who are all demanding reasons for this action.One item at issue is the fact that Fort has reported to the hospital's board of directors, the legislators, and the press that the doctor only has 25 patients and that is not enough to support a full-time oncologist. According to hospital records, the oncology department had 1,289 patient encounters in the last year, not counting the emergency or impatient encounters, which are estimated to be about 200 each. Additionally, with 23 towns, cities and villages in Orleans County, a caseload of 25 patients would mean only one from each town, which is a sticking point with many.Senator Bobby Starr, (D) Orleans/Essex, has announced that there will be a meeting to discuss the situation at 6 PM on Wednesday, Jan. 18, at the Newport City Municipal Building. Fort and other hospital officials will be on hand to answer questions from the pubic, "And I will be there to ask them," the senator noted.Sen. Vince Illuzzi, (R) Orleans/Essex, has also decided to look into the situation and is working on a plan to help out. Rep. Duncan Kilmartin, (R) Newport/Coventry, has asked the board for all of the records of the meetings of the directors concerning the cutback and replacement of Dr. Lockridge.Reps. Lynn Batchelor and Robert Lewis, (R) Derby, are also planning to attend the meeting as well as the annual hospital meeting on Thursday, Jan. 19, at the Eastside Restaurant in Newport.The budget is closed to the public because the hospital is a private, non-profit business, but the January 2011 issue of Vermont Business Magazine lists 100 of the top businesses in the state and the amount of money they took in last year. North country Hospital is part of that list with a reported $81 million in gross revenues. Fort reportedly has already told the medical staff that the hospital lost $75,000 last year and he has reported that this change in the oncology department will save $100,000.In order to fill the gap left by Dr. Lockridge leaving, the hospital has agreed to hire two part-time oncologists to travel here from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Hanover, NH, and to hire a full-time nurse practitioner to run the department at a rumored cost of $70,000 a year.Press-Ganey, a national watchdog for better hospitals and doctors, released their report of medical practice covering Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 30, 2010, in which they gave the oncology department of North Country Hospital a 99% rating. In her letter announcing the score, Kelly Hofferth, Improvement Manager at Press Ganey Associates, noted, "Congratulations! Your hard work and dedication to quality improvement are evident in the increase of your medical practice patient satisfaction scores for overall satisfaction. you should be very proud...." The letter is dated Feb. 1, 2011.Meanwhile, the Facebook pages fill up with praise and support for Dr. Lockridge and the oncology department and letters to the editor are coming in daily.