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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Newport Doctor Seeks To Meet Needs Unmet By Hospital

Charlotte Albright
Dr. Leslie Lockridge wears a mirror that helps sharpen his view. He is expanding his private practice in Newport.

A doctor whose cancer clinic was closed by Newport’s North Country Hospital three years ago has set up a private practice that is rapidly expanding.

In fact, Leslie Lockridge’s clinic is not treating only oncology patients. He’s adding other services that have been dropped by the hospital, and there are plans for further expansion in the future.

On a winter day back in 2012,  Lockridge’s patients loudly protested the decision by North Country Hospital CEO Claudio Fort to close the hospital’s oncology clinic. North County planned to replace Lockridge with doctors from Dartmouth-Hitchcock who travelled to Newport only once or twice a week.

Citing cost concerns, the hospital also cut mental health services. Lockridge is building an independent practice that trying to fill those gaps – and others, such as occupational medicine.

“The practice not only cares for patients with hematology and oncology issues, blood diseases and cancer, but we also see primary care patients and we’ve got a pretty good mix of both,” Lockridge says.

Although North Country Hospital says some of those services were becoming too expensive to provide, Lockridge says his clinic is growing fast and doing fine financially.

“And we’ve gotten involved in a lot of different aspects of medicine and care,” he adds. “Over the two and a half years--almost exactly two and a half years, really to the day that we’ve been open-- we’ve been concentrating on needs-based medicine, looking at what the community is missing and trying to fill those needs.”

Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR
An old-fashioned suction machine sits on a shelf in the private practice offices of Dr. Leslie Lockridge in Newport.

Lockridge works apart from the hospital, yet retains privileges to treat inpatients there. He admits that’s an unusual business model in an age where most doctors prefer to have a hospital-based practice. Building a private practice, he says, brings administrative burdens like hiring and firing staff, and plant maintenance.

“[Like] parking for God’s sake, I mean there’s so much in the private practice of medicine now that takes your focus away from the actual medical events,” he says.

But he says those challenges are worth meeting in a community where he has chosen to live. "There would have been more money elsewhere if I had left Vermont," he says, "but this is my home now, and these are the best patients in the world."

Clinic Administrator Danielle Wright says she likes helping those patients with non-medical issues that could affect their health. She finds them discounts on medications, even help paying for heating oil.  A small practice, she says, can treat each patient as an individual, not a number. The clinic has its own charitable “adopt-a-patient” fund

“We’re there to help. We’re just supportive of their wellbeing,” she says.

Lockridge’s clinic looks like a throwback to the nineteen-fifties. He collects and uses some durable antiques, like a vintage suction machine, a mirrored headband, and a white platform scale that he proudly keeps in his office. When it was donated, the scale was in terrible shape, but he called the Fairbanks Scale Company in St. Johnsbury and followed step-by-step instructions to get it back into working order.

“By the time we were done with a twenty-minute phone call the scale worked perfectly.”

Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR
Dr. Leslie Lockridge tries out the 100-tear-old scale he restored for his office in the private practice he is expanding in Newport.

Lockridge says he hopes to bring a similar can-do attitude to an even bigger expansion of his clinic, possibly at a different location.

He says he may have an announcement about that in the not-too-distant future. 

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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