A longtime Amherst physician, who has been experiencing health issues of his own, has announced his retirement.
Dr. Brian Ferguson, who moved to Amherst in 1986 and has as many as 2,700 patients, announced in a Facebook post to his patients on Sunday that he is retiring from family medicine and closing his practice on Aug. 17.
“The unfortunate and potentially lethal inflammation (sarcoidosis) of my heart has forced me to reflect on my future over the past one and a half years,” Dr. Ferguson said in his post. “In the past week, I have consulted with my cardiologists at the Saint John Regional Heart Centre, my loving and supportive wife my four accomplished sons and the 92-year-old matriarch of the family, my mother, and I have realized to keep this 38-year pace and burnout my heart and die by a technicality would be negligence on my part.”
Ferguson, who could not be reached for additional comment Monday, said he wishes to continue with inpatient and emergency coverage at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre and he wishes to do cover some emergency shifts at the All Saints Collaborative Emergency Centre in Springhill that has experienced significant ER closures in recent years due to a lack of physician coverage.
Ferguson took an absence from his practice last year after being diagnosed with the inflammation of his heart, but returned to his practice. Last week, in another Facebook post, he advised his patients that he was going to see his cardiologist in Saint John and would be deciding on his future after that visit.
By mid-afternoon Monday, more than 150 people commented on his Facebook page with messages of love and understanding.
Mischa Zeltner, who is funeral director at Campbell’s Funeral Home in Amherst, wrote: “We are sad to read this, absolutely understand that you need to look after your own health. We wish you nothing but the best and better health in your future.”
Kim Jones wrote, “I am so grateful for the care you provided to my mother for many years. I wish you a long, healthy and happy retirement. You will be greatly missed in the medical realm. You are leaving huge shoes to fill.”
Marlene Carrier Gagnon said Ferguson probably never realized the impact he would have on people when he arrived in Amherst.
“As a young man, when you decided to practice medicine, I do not know if you ever knew how great an impact you would make on so many patients,” she wrote. “I thank you for my peace of mind, knowing we always had you in our corner to make things right.”
An outspoken advocate for his patients and for local health care, Ferguson helped lead the charge that brought Level 2 emergency care to the former Highland View Regional Hospital and he was director of the emergency department there and at the new regional hospital when it opened in 2003.
Last summer, he spoke out again about the hospital, expressing his fears for its regional status because of the departure of several specialists and physicians. He said there were so few doctors working in the ER that it was becoming difficult to maintain 24-hour coverage – a necessity for a regional hospital.
His work in the community, that includes being the doctor for the Amherst Fire Department’s annual John Michels Sr. Ladder Sit for Muscular Dystrophy, was lauded several years ago when he was named Rural Physician of the Year by Doctors Nova Scotia.
He has also helped train numerous interns over the years, while he was very active in minor sports including baseball and hockey, which his four boys played.
Amherst Mayor David Kogon, a retired gynecologist, said Ferguson will be missed. Kogon is part of a local physician recruitment committee that has been working to bring more doctors and specialists to Amherst and Cumberland County to deal with a growing crisis that had the potential to threaten the hospital’s regional status.
“We averted a crisis a year ago, but that was only the first step in a much bigger job,” said Kogon, who added Ferguson is also his family physician. “The role of our committee continues and will continue. Dr. Ferguson has been a cherished colleague of mine. He and his wife, Dr. Celina White, moved to Amherst after talking to me when I came to Amherst in the 1980s. He will be sorely missed, but you have to take care of yourself and do what you have to do. We fully support and understand his decision.”
He said the committee will continue working on succession planning for not only family medicine but also for various specialty programs. Kogon said there are two family physicians coming – one this summer and one in the fall – and while it will be hard to replace Ferguson’s patient load he’s hoping some of his patients will be picked up by the newcomers.
There are also two medical resident students coming to Amherst this year and two next year through the Dalhousie University Family Residency Training Program.
“That does not solve the problem because Dr. Ferguson has a much larger than average size practice,” Kogon said. “However, we have continued an ongoing discussion with family medicine residents and the family medicine training program is beginning and that is a sign for optimism because the retention rate of physicians training in the community staying in the community is extremely high. It takes time, so people will have to be patient.”
Under the program, two physicians will train under proctors in Amherst this year and two more next year.