Rheumatologist retires, no local replacement for 800 patients

Stock image, St. George News

 ST. GEORGE – Since Southern Utah’s only rheumatologist retired in October, several hundred patients are unable to see a local doctor for what can be a life-threatening illness.

Rheumatologist Dr. John McCormick retired in October, and now local patients have to travel to Salt Lake City for care – if they can find an opening, local arthritis advocate Sarah Cloud said.

The term ‘arthritis’ encompasses dozens of medical conditions that range from mild to disabling to life-threatening, and includes several autoimmune disorders.

Cloud lives in Hurricane and is a platinum ambassador for the Arthritis Foundation and the mother of an adult son who has the disease.

Dr. McCormick was the only rheumatologist south of Provo,” Cloud said. “He was covering the entire half of the state.”

“He had over 500 patients that he was seeing. There were another 300 on the wait list, and that didn’t include those of us who weren’t able to get on his wait list,” Cloud said.

Local patients had less than a month’s notice that McCormick’s clinic was closing and were told they’d have to transfer to other rheumatologists.

“So it has created anywhere from a six-month to a nine-month waiting list for rheumatologists in Salt Lake City,” Cloud said.

Many insurance companies will not pay for doctor visits across state lines, including SelectHealth, which the Clouds get through an employer.

But waiting that long to see a doctor can cause permanent damage, Cloud said. While her own son is doing well for now, others are not so lucky.

Read more: 1 in 5 Americans; Hurricane woman fights for arthritis sufferers

 Cloud’s son was covered by Arches Health Plan and seeing a Las Vegas rheumatologist, but Arches was dissolved in October of 2015. The move left 20 of Utah’s 29 counties with only one insurer, according to the Deseret News.

“He’s actually been on a patient wait list for Salt Lake since January of last year,” Cloud said. Right now, the Cloud’s family doctor is seeing Chris. However, the doctor is not familiar with arthritic disorders nor the “biologic” medicines that are often prescribed to treat them.

McCormick practiced at an Intermountain Healthcare clinic and Intermountain is trying to recruit a rheumatologist, Dixie Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Terri Draper said in an emailed response to questions.

We are aware of this need and want very much to meet it,” Draper said. “We wish we had better news regarding local rheumatology options for patients.”

“With the aging of America, rheumatologists are in very high demand everywhere. We have been and still are actively recruiting for them, as are most hospitals in the country,” Draper said.

Intermountain is exploring the possibility of telemedicine consultations with rheumatologists, Draper said, and staff is doing everything they can to recruit one.

In the meantime, the situation has been very difficult for arthritis sufferers.

“It’s forcing people to either go to Salt Lake or go without care,” Cloud said.

Cloud could take her son to Las Vegas to see an out-of-network doctor, but that would cost $300 cash up front.

“We’re already in a disease class that’s expensive,” she said, adding medications for autoimmune arthritis are outrageously expensive as well.

“My other concern is that I do know adult patients here that because of the severity of their arthritis cannot actually make the trip to Salt Lake.”

Cloud personally knows people who are becoming housebound because of lack of treatment – and lack of options, she said.

And while seeing a general practitioner works for milder cases, it is very complicated to get the class of medications severe patients need when a family doctor is trying to prescribe it.

“Generally, you need to have an internist, a gastroenterologist or a rheumatologist to actually prescribe these medications,” Cloud said. “Insurance will deny it because it’s not the right type of doctor requesting it.”

In addition, family doctors are hesitant to prescribe the medications, many of which come with a “black box” warning label because of the serious and even life-threatening risks associated with the medicines.

“So that leaves you with a group of patients who don’t have a doctor to oversee their care, but they also don’t have a doctor to oversee their medications. And you have to have a doctor’s approval every time you get these medications.”

Patients also have to be closely monitored when on anti-rheumatic biologics such as Enbrel, which involves regular doctor visits.

Resources

  • Arthritis Foundation website
  • Arthritis Foundation Utah Web page
  • Arthritis Foundation advocacy information web page

Email: japplegate@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

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10 Comments

  • DRT February 27, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    Sadly, this report does not qualify for “news” because there is nothing new about it. My wife suffers from RA. Years ago, she tried to see a “local” rheumatologist, with no luck. At that time, there was a female doctor who was a rheumatologist up north. She had moved down here to “retire” but found the need so great, that she started practicing on a part time basis. My wife was unable to get an appointment with her for many months. So she went to Las Vegas, to a rheumatologist down there. And it was cash up front.
    She was on several different meds, including at least three different biologics, before finding something she could tolerate.
    Then she built up an intolerance for that one. She then suffered some serious medical problems, that caused her retirement. We can no longer afford for her to go to Vegas to get the help she needs.
    So, my point here is, that there is nothing new about this area needing a rheumatologist practice. I don’t understand just why it is so hard to recruit a top notch rheumatologist into this area.
    We certainly have top notch cardiologists, and many other categories. So why is it so hard to get rheumatologists down here? Heaven knows this is a much nicer area to live in, than any urban area. So what is going on here?

  • spamdaddy2015 February 27, 2017 at 9:10 pm

    Obama care strikes again! Another physician deciding to retire due to the over burdensome of paperwork required for each patient.

    • Diana February 28, 2017 at 9:44 am

      Evidently you must personally be acquainted with the retired doctor since you want to put it out there the reason for retiring as: “Due to the over burdensome of paperwork required for each patient”. Did it ever occur to you that someone decides to retire because they have other reasons other than the Affordable Care Act? Maybe if you could get over the ACA vs ObamaCare terminology, you could become more optimistic and not so judgmental.

      • Bender February 28, 2017 at 11:47 am

        As a rule commentators like spamdaddy 2015 have no idea that ACA is Obamacare and would not be able to name a single provision of ACA.

  • LordCharlesII February 27, 2017 at 10:27 pm

    Cross reference article from the Salt Lake Tribune recently http://www.sltrib.com/news/4780320-155/utahs-physician-shortage-worsens-as-more
    I’m from Cedar City and in medical school now but I’ll be hard pressed to come back to Utah and work for a hospital that pays far less than the national average even after adjusting for cost of living and that doesn’t offer loan repayment while graduate school debt has skyrocketed. Dixie Reigional’s support of the new medical school in Ivins has also been pitiful. It seems less than coincidental to me that IHC doesn’t pay well, doesn’t offer loan incentives, doesn’t support medical education, and is the largest hospital network throughout a state that ranks 43rd in access to healthcare. Hopefully something gives but from where I’m sitting now there are 42 other states that are more appealing to practice in than Utah because besides having nice places to live, they are more hospitable to graduating physicians. I can understand a Rheumatologist’s reluctance to move here unless motivated by sheer altruism and that certainly doesn’t sound like a very persuasive recruiting pitch.

  • .... February 27, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    Very good article and we’ll written and glad to see it on St George news. well done !

  • .... February 27, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    DRT by all means feel free to move and live elsewhere nobody says you have to stay here. have a nice trip !

    • Real Life February 28, 2017 at 8:09 am

      Good morning party boy! Another long night of doing nothing at all.

    • DRT February 28, 2017 at 7:09 pm

      Thank you for your well thought out, intelligent response.

  • daldrich February 28, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    When I moved here 10 years ago, there was not a rheumatologist in town to manage my Systemic Lupus. Then, Dr. Parkinson began commuting every other week from SLC. I only had a 3-month wait to get in with a rheumy in SLC, but I found one that was at another intermountain clinic rather than University of Utah. The U rheumatologists are booked out much farther and many are not taking patients. I have PEHP which does not allow out of state coverage unless there is an emergency while traveling. Sitting that long in the car both ways is too painful to do in one day, so appointments will include a hotel bill as well. I’m glad that St. George News addressed this serious issue. I had no idea there were 800 patients. 🙁 I hope they get it figured out soon. BTW, he retired because he didn’t want to have to deal with a brand new system that IHC rolled out. We were given less than 1 month’s notice and they wiped out all his lab standing orders for patients when he left, leaving many of us with know way to continue to monitor disease progression…

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