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Ontario doctor leaving practice after unfounded claims she denied care to unvaccinated patients

The only full-time family physician in a small northern Ontario town says she feels personally attacked after a spate of COVID-19 misinformation and anti-vaccination sentiment set off by a town councillor.

Dr. Gretchen Roedde, 69, says, as a result, she plans to close her practice in Latchford on March 31.

Latchford Mayor George Lefebvre says Coun. Scott Green made a mistake when he wrote a Facebook post claiming Roedde wasn’t seeing unvaccinated patients.

Lefebvre says the post was unwarranted and unleashed criticism and anger against the doctor on social media.

“It became very nasty. People should not use social media to express their concerns,” said Lefebvre.

Green says he put letters of apology in 300 mailboxes in Latchford — a town of some 300 people, 130 kilometres northeast of Sudbury — but won’t say what he wrote in them.

ontario doctor leaving practice after unfounded claims she denied care to unvaccinated patients
Mayor George Lefebvre says Latchford town council hopes to recruit a new doctor to replace Roedde by the end of March. (Bienvenu Senga/Radio-Canada)

He says he wants to move on and avoid stirring up another storm of controversy.

As for Roedde, she says she doesn’t want to dwell on the councillor’s remarks but does want to wrap up her stint in Latchford earlier than planned.

She says she has provided care, and made accommodations for, her unvaccinated patients. 

“We had said if people are not vaccinated, we would look at alternatives,” said Roedde.

“We would do phone [calls], when we could. We’ve had people come at the end of the day, like I had a new mom who wasn’t vaccinated. We had her at the very end of the day, we sort of wiped down everything. This is for the protection of the unvaccinated, as well as for the protection of other patients that come in.”

When you’re tired, you know, doing house calls every day over a weekend … worrying about your own safety. You just sort of think, it’s enough.– Dr. Gretchen Roedde

She says she’s also seen unvaccinated patients outside in the clinic’s parking lot and has been making house calls to unvaccinated seniors and those who have tested positive.

“I have had a very sick man with COVID. He was a staunch anti-vaxxer. He got quite sick. I’ve been looking after him at home for 12 days of his illness, and then his oxygen level suddenly dropped. So I was seeing him yesterday. We arranged for him to transfer by ambulance to the hospital where he’s now in intensive care.” 

Roedde says the final straw was a call from the body that regulates doctors to notify her of complaints from two patients who said she was denying care to the unvaccinated.

She says the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons (OCPS) discussed her protocols with her and declined to open an investigation.

A spokesperson for the OCPS says it can’t comment.

Roedde says it’s all become overwhelming and she’s exhausted, especially since she has gone above and beyond to provide care to her patients.

“It’s personally painful. And when you’re tired, you know, doing house calls every day over a weekend, over the next weekend, you know, worrying about your own safety. You just sort of think, it’s enough,” she said. 

As a result, Roedde says she’ll help in the search for a new doctor for her 800 patients in the Cobalt, Latchford, Coleman Township area but has set a deadline of March 31.

Patients say she will be missed.

Terrance Inglis says Roedde is a dedicated doctor, saying it’s rare for a doctor to do house calls in this era and the community will feel the loss.

 Amjindar Cheema said he only had to walk two blocks for an appointment and wonders what will happen 

“Losing her, I know they’re going to replace her but still it can take some time. But still she was the best.”

The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) and the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) have recently said abuse and harassment of doctors during the pandemic has been growing and is unacceptable.

Dr. Adam Kassam of the OMA says the rage displayed in Latchford is not isolated.

“I think we have deep fractures in our communities right now. It’s been amplified by the pandemic,” said Kassam.

He’s urging elected officials to fulfil their responsibility to ensure that the public is getting the best information possible, based on expertise from scientists.

Roedde says after she leaves, she plans to care for her 96-year-old father in Toronto and maybe pick up some shifts in that area, and maybe finish a novel she’s writing.

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