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'It's so sad': Retired N.S. doctor feels she 'abandoned' her patients

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Retirement is bittersweet, said Dr. Deanna Swinamer, as she spent a rare few minutes in her old office at the clinic in Hammonds Plains, N.S., Tuesday.

"It is far less stressful," said Swinamer with a smile.

"Finally having a chance to breathe. I'm finding great enjoyment in many little things."

After decades of providing care to thousands of patients, she finally saw the last of them in late-December.

It was the added stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic that finally broke the camel's back - and the doctor's heart.

"I ended up abandoning another 2,000 patients that I care very deeply about. I've been here caring for the same people for the past 23 years, since I moved to Nova Scotia, and it's heartbreaking," she said.

"Since COVID hit, the last two and a half years have been probably the worst years that I've practiced in family practice. And we stayed, I stayed. I saw patients during COVID. I did not completely go to just a phone call. We saw people, because people needed to be seen."

It wasn't a last minute decision.

Swinamer started telling patients months in advance and even started lobbying government to find a replacement.

She also sat down for an interview with a newly graduated doctor.

"And he said to me, 'Dr. Swinamer, nobody's going to do what you do.'"

In March of 2022, Swinamer met with Nova Scotia's Healthcare Recruitment Office.

"And so that went on for a while. I certainly met with several people, but nobody wanted to come and do what I do at this clinic," said Swinamer.

In an email to CTV News, Nova Scotia Health confirmed work was underway to find a replacement.

"Recruitment efforts are ongoing and Hammonds Plains is a priority for us in Central Zone," said Brendan Elliott, media relations senior advisor for NS Health.

“There have been four site visits by prospective primary care providers to the clinic between March and September. We have a posting up for locum coverage for another physician in the clinic to provide relief while we continue to recruit for Dr. Swinamer’s vacancy."

Meantime, a former patient of Swinamer's also launched a campaign to help find a replacement, lobbying the government through phone calls and emails.

"I finally got an email back in late December from them, saying that a family doctor was going to be in place soon," said Jean Lumsden, a resident of Lewis Lake, N.S.

Lumsden said, when Dr. Swinamer mentioned she would be retiring, the first thing she felt was panic.

“Because you don't know what you're going to do," said Lumsden.

"I just assumed someone would be coming in."

In the meantime, Lumsden and her family have joined the nearly 130,000 Nova Scotians on a waitlist to find a primary care provider.

"We're searching. We're hoping. Fingers crossed," said Lumsden.

Swinamer takes some solace in knowing walk-in doctors at the clinic have agreed to see her patients because the files are still there, but it's hardly what she was hoping for.

"It's not a great solution, but the system is so broken right now," she said.

"It's so sad."

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