At least three physicians in Charlottetown are leaving their practices in the next few weeks, leaving more than 5,000 people in the city without a family doctor.
It's unclear yet what will happen to all the patients of Dr. Kris Saunders, Dr. Ray Cooke and Dr. Jocelyn Peterson, who all gave notice they are packing up their stethoscopes.
But Health P.E.I. said there is no doubt it will add to the patient registry list that is already about 23,000 names long.
"It's difficult," said chief medical officer Dr. Katherine McNally.
"It's hard to be a patient who doesn't have access to primary care, whether that's a physician or nurse practitioner. All of those patients will be receiving information from their family physician."
Saunders posted a letter saying after 15 years, he's leaving his practice July 1. He didn't say why he's leaving, or where he's going, and Health P.E.I. would not provide details. In an interview with CBC News: Compass in 2019, Saunders, then president of the Medical Society of P.E.I., warned of an impending exodus of physicians.
Cooke posted a letter at his clinic saying in July, he's retiring from his practice and moving into a job with Veterans Affairs Canada.
Peterson is leaving June 24 and isn't taking any new appointments. An office voice message says a temporary replacement has been found for the summer months.
Walk-in clinics and virtual care through Maple are options for people without a family doctor.
Some services, such as cancer screening, can be accessed without a referral from a family doctor.
McNally said it's not ideal, but not unexpected.
"This is a national crisis … There's a shortage of family physicians and nurse practitioners, primary care providers across the country. So this is not unique to us and how we provide care. And making sure patients have access is really important."
The province is working on recruiting and retaining doctors, but Health P.E.I. said there are no permanent replacements for the departing doctors yet.
As the province transitions to its new medical home model, where family doctors are just part of a bigger team of specialized professionals that see patients, depending on the care they need, it's unlikely they will be replaced in the same way they once would've been.
'Impact is big'
"It's not one-to-one," McNally said.
"Like a physician won't leave and someone comes exactly into that exact model, because we're trying to get people into teams. It's not easy to just say, 'This person's leaving, someone's coming.' Because we're also changing to team-based care at the same time."
Dr. Laura O'Connor, a family physician and Queens County medical director for primary care, said the timing of three doctors leaving at the same time is unfortunate, but encourages Islanders to "sit tight."
"The impact is big. When they're clustered time-wise together, it does seem like a very big change ... Through the course of the next several months, there'll be more direction."