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Patients rally around Sheet Harbour doctor

Sheet Harbour resident Terry Havlik, who copes with serious heart conditions, has been without a doctor since June 2016, when his physician was disciplined by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia.
Sheet Harbour resident Terry Havlik, who copes with serious heart conditions, has been without a doctor since June 2016, when his physician was disciplined by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia. - The Chronicle Herald

Patients of a suspended Sheet Harbour family doctor say their community is in the midst of a health-care crisis and they’re fed up waiting for the physician to be reinstated by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia.

“I do know that 95 per cent of Dr. Atkinson’s patients love him and want him back and feel comfortable with him,” said Terry Havlik, who had been a been patient of Bradley Atkinson’s for 25 years before the doctor had his licence temporarily revoked by the college in June 2016.

Havlik, who suffered a heart attack 13 months ago and copes with a number of chronic heart conditions, says since Atkinson’s suspension he’s been waiting for weeks at a time to see a doctor as he plays “Russian roulette with himself,” trying to manage his health problems.

“It happens on a nightly basis when I wake up hearing 65 screeches in my ears every minute. That’s how I know my blood pressure is gone through the roof, up to 180. So I’ll take an extra Aspirin to help thin out the blood a little more; it’s a selfmedicating measure.

“I don’t know what to do, I’m just so frustrated. We have this doctor that wants to work, who wants to come back and he’s got a faithful following in the village.”

Sheet Harbour currently faces a shortage of family doctors, following the departure of one of the community’s three physicians last month. That means there’s only two physicians manning the Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital, and as result the hospital’s emergency room has been closed nine times this month. Like last week, it’s scheduled to close for a five-day period, starting Thursday through to Tuesday.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority says it is in the process of trying to come up with a longterm plan for the community while also trying to recruit a doctor to the area.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia offered no explanation for its decision to suspend Atkinson’s licence back in 2016 and is disclosing few details on when or if Atkinson would be reinstated.

The Chronicle Herald attempted to reach Atkinson but was told by his daughter, Rebecca, that he’s prohibited by the college to speak to the media about his case.

A year before his suspension, Atkinson had been disciplined by the college for prescribing Tylenol 3 to a patient with knee pain and on another occasion ordering morphine to a dying man living at a seniors care facility. Atkinson was not permitted to prescribe controlled drugs and narcotics at the time, a penalty imposed by the college.

Those restrictions came after a 2008 complaint but the college would not say where exactly the doctor erred. But Atkinson had been ordered to improve his skills in narcotics prescribing to the college’s satisfaction, but failed to do so. During that time, Atkinson stated he no longer wanted to prescribe narcotics but was required to do so by his site manager.

The college ordered an audit of Atkinson’s practice, the results of which showed the doctor’s recordkeeping fell below standard. But the audit also assessed Atkinson to be a competent doctor who provided quality care to his patients.

Havlik had thought Atkinson would be back practising at the hospital last month. In fact, he had been put on the doctor’s patient list but was informed by the hospital a little over a week ago that he’d have a longer wait ahead of him. Meanwhile, the hospital’s answering service names Atkinson as one of the hospital’s serving doctors During the emergency room closures, residents are forced to travel up to an hour and a half to the nearest emergency rooms in Dartmouth, Musquodoboit Harbour and New Glasgow.

Tanya Malay was forced to drive her 84-year-old mother, a former patient of Atkinson’s, to a walk-in clinic in Bayers Lake on Monday. Her mother has been without a doctor since Atkinson’s suspension.

Malay says her entire family had been patients of Atkinson’s over the years and were more than happy with the care they received from him.

“It’s so ridiculous that they’re out there recruiting for a doctor when there’s a great one right here in the community,” said Malay. “It’s such a shame.”

“Not once ever has he ever not been professional in the time we’ve known him. He’s compassionate, never made his patients wait. I certainly never got the sense that he was disorganized with my medical history records. Everything in my file was up to date and thorough.”

Trudie Attlesey, who copes with MS, can recall a time when Atkinson saved her life back in 2011 when she arrived at the hospital’s emergency room with an abdominal aorta aneurysm.

“Not only did he show me compassion he was thorough and notified my family doctor right away and they got to the bottom of it,” she said.

Attlesey says Atkinson had always been a careful, attentive doctor.

“We’re so much lesser without him. He’s an amazing citizen here in our community and he is so community-oriented.”

She said Atkinson had played an instrumental role in launching the Gerald Hardy Memorial Society, a non-profit organization in the community that provides employment, and mental health support for adults with intellectual disabilities.

Pattie Lacroix, a spokeswoman for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, said the college is still working through Atkinson’s case, which could be resolved through a negotiated agreement between the doctor and the college, or through a public hearing.

“The college is working with Dr. Atkinson to achieve one of these resolutions, and the public will be notified either of the outcome of the negotiation of a settlement agreement, or the date for the holding of a formal public hearing,” said Lacroix.

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