Lockridge Denied Pitch to Hospital Board

NEWPORT- The North County Hospital Board of Trustees met Thursday but decided not to meet with Dr. Leslie Lockridge, the hospital’s oncologist who has lost his job.Lockridge said he was notified Friday that he would not be allowed to go before the full board to discuss his situation.In the meantime, the board went public with a letter to the press saying they support Fort and his decision to staff the oncology department with visiting physicians from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire.The hospital’s CEO, Claudio Fort, notified Lockridge in January that his job is ending Feb. 10 and two doctors from Dartmouth-Hitchcock would visit patients twice a week instead. Fort says the move will save the hospital money and will provide a connection with a world class cancer center.The announcement caused an outcry among Lockridge’s patients and many community members who support him. Many have pressed the board and Fort to keep Lockridge and have criticized the decision to terminate Lockridge’s position.But according to a statement issued by Fort’s assistant, Shelly Morey, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to affirm Fort’s decision to partner with Dartmouth’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center.“As the hospital’s governing body, the Board’s priorities are to ensure the continuation of needed services; to ensure sufficient coverage and depth of services; and to be responsible stewards of available resources so the hospital can continue to fulfill its mission and meet the healthcare needs of the community. The decision to partner with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center is fully consistent with each of these priorities,” the statement reads.“We on the Board of Trustees are sure about the value of this new partnership with Dartmouth-Hitchcock, and we also know how disturbing such a change in the course of treatment is to the patients. We express our deep compassion to these men and women.”Lockridge, in an interview Sunday, seemed disappointed with the decision of the board not to meet with him and said he has never experienced anything like this before.Lockridge and his attorney, Tom Somers of Burlington, who practices employment law, are in the process of negotiating a severance package with the hospital. Lockridge made an offer and heard back from the hospital. Although Lockridge said he cannot disclose the response offer from the hospital, he called it “fair at best.”He is making a counter offer. His goal is to stay in the community and work with his patients, he said. He is working on a way to set up a private practice.Lockridge is due for approval of his credentials for hospital privileges from the North Country Hospital credential committee on March 1. Lockridge says he remains hopeful for hospital privileges and that his attorney assures him that there would be no basis for denial. Renewal of hospital privileges is a big piece to staying in practice in the area, Lockridge said.More than 200 people turned out for a meeting with the hospital board and Fort a couple weeks ago to express their concerns regarding the change to the oncology department. The following evening, a group of patients and supporters of Lockridge showed up at the hospital’s annual meeting to quietly protest with signs. Some signs asked for Fort to step down. The police were called by a hospital official to stop the protesters from attending the meeting.The visiting doctors scheduled to replace Lockridge are Ronald Kubica and Sergey Devitskiy.