LUBEC, Maine — The Regional Medical Clinic at Lubec is in danger of not being able to provide timely medication to recovering drugs addicts, according to a physician who formerly cared for those patients.
Dr. Benjamin Newman of Winter Harbor sounded the alarm about the circumstances in an email he sent Thursday afternoon to Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith and state Sen. David Burns of Whiting, who is a member of the clinic’s board of directors.
Newman ran the clinic’s drug addiction program, which has about 20 patients in various stages of recovery from opiates. He was the only physician authorized to prescribe Suboxone — a narcotic analgesic used to treat opiate addiction — to the patients and was scheduled to see them Thursday.
However, Newman’s contract with the clinic was not renewed in August, and his contract expired Aug. 31. His attorney notified clinic CEO Marilyn Hughes on Monday that he would no longer be returning to the clinic, according to Newman.
Newman talked with Hughes by phone Thursday morning, and she did not know how the patients were going to be cared for, he said Friday. She said, “I don’t know. We’re working on it,” according to Newman’s account.
He received an email from Hughes on Thursday afternoon indicating the clinic had an alternative plan to take care of his patients. He replied by email, asking what it was, but did not receive a response, he said.
Newman also received a copy of an email from Hughes to Burns and others dated 7:20 p.m. Thursday indicating that the clinic had made arrangements to take care of his patients. He said Hughes wrote the following: “Please be assured that I and my staff have taken appropriate steps to ensure that the acute and ongoing health care needs of each of Dr. Newman’s patients are being attended to.” Newman said he subsequently asked Hughes again by email what the arrangements were, but she still did not respond.
Calls to the clinic on Friday were referred to Hughes, who was off for the day. Other clinic staff would not comment.
Newman did not know why the clinic allowed his contract to expire. He asked Hughes but never received an answer, he said. The clinic staff may have simply forgotten to renew his contract, he suggested.
Hughes contacted Newman on Thursday morning and asked if he would be at the clinic that day, according to the physician. He told her he could not continue to practice at the clinic since his contract was not renewed and he no longer had malpractice insurance provided by the clinic.
The administrator of the Suboxone program, who was not immediately identified, called him the same morning, according to Newman, and asked if he would sign some Suboxone prescriptions. He informed her that would be illegal and asked what was going to happen to his patients.
“I have no idea,” she replied, according to Newman.
“If these patients do not get their suboxone renewed in 24 hours they will become very sick,” Newman warned Smith and Burns. While in withdrawal most of his patients would go looking for drugs and commit crimes in order to obtain money to buy drugs, he added.
“Senator, this is a crisis,” Newman wrote in his email. “Abandonment of a patient or patients is a very serious event and it is clearly malpractice. Please check this out with the board’s attorney. If any of these patients die because they could not get their suboxone on time, you will have bought the farm.”
In an added note addressed to Smith, Newman warned that the clinic’s action could be responsible for a “crime wave.”
“They must have a plan,” said Newman. “They must be doing something.” The clinic could have referred his patients to other clinics in Eastport, Calais, or elsewhere, he noted.
Smith had not spoken with representatives of the Lubec clinic and did not know what arrangements it made, if any, to care for the patients in question, he said Friday morning. On Friday evening he sent an email to the BDN saying he had tried twice that day to contact the CEO and the chairman of the board “and they did not return my calls.”
Joanne Case, a member of the Lubec Board of Selectmen, read Newman’s letter to the board at its regular meeting Thursday night. Afterward, the board directed Town Manager John Sutherland to contact clinic officials and inquire about the program.
“I don’t know what’s going on at the medical center,” Case said Friday morning. “I’m really concerned what’s going on with the patients in this town.”