Sound of phone ringing…
(Receptionist) I need you to look over the information for me … and I just need you to sign the bottom of the second page for me okay…
(Keese) For 25 years, Dr. Nancy Skattergood had a family practice in Bennington. Now she fills in occasionally at a medical center in nearby Manchester. But her days of answering calls at all hours of the night are over. A few months ago she left her practice.
(Skattergood) I reached a wall and I knew I had to stop. I was getting up at four in the morning to do the paperwork…
(Keese) All that was fine when she was in her thirties, But she’s in her fifties now – an age when doctors used to start to slow down and let the younger recruits burn the midnight oil.
But in Bennington, and other pockets of Vermont, young physicians haven’t stepped in to fill that role.
(Skattergood) Young doctors have choices. And rural Vermont in particular is probably not as attractive because you can have the same type practice elsewhere and be financially more secure.
(Keese) Skattergood says part of it is Vermont’s low reimbursement rate for Medicaid and other government programs. A high percentage of patients in the area qualify for those programs.
That’s a serious drawback doctors starting out with a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of college debts.
Bennington County’s regional hospital, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center is currently looking for more than 20 doctors. That’s to fill existing vacancies.
Another longtime primary care physician is retiring this fall, and no replacement has been found for him.
(Morrissey) And that literally has put many patients and people in the community a little bit in freefall because we just have such a shortage of doctors.
(Keese) Mary Morrissey is a state representative from Bennington. She says she gets a lot of calls about the problem.
(Morrissey) I mean I heard from a couple just last week. Both are in their 80s. And this particular doctor is their doctor who’ s retiring. And I think there’s a couple of other doctors that they’ve been referred to but they were told it would most likely a year and a half before they would have a physician and that for any individual any age is a great concern.
(Keese) And it’s not just family practitioners. Due to the illness of one oncologist, the hospital’s cancer center has been reduced to part time and temporary cancer specialists.
Some patients like Debbie Hanson of Manchester are traveling an hour and a half each way to Troy, N.Y. for treatment.
(Hanson) It has quite a big impact on me and my family. It’s just an added stress that you don’t need. You don’t need any more stress once you’ve been diagnosed with cancer and gone through all the treatments.
(Keese) Kevin McDonald is a spokesman for the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. He says the hospital is recruiting in cardiology, neurology, obstetrics and a number of other specialties.
(McDonald) In many of those specialties we do have people currently on staff but we need more. Like many hospitals in Vermont, we’re of the size where in many of the specialties we may be only two or three deep. So if you lose one it’s a big deal.
(Keese) McDonald says the hospital is working hard to fill the gaps and strategize creative solutions. But it’s going to take time.
For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.