Dr. Edward B. Kitfield opened Wiscasset Family Medicine in downtown Wiscasset 40 years ago as a place to apply his patient-centered, community-based approach to health care. Kitfield sold the practice to Dr. Cortney Linville, who he recruited to join Wiscasset Family Medicine about two years ago, in July.
Linville has taken on responsibility for the operation of the practice. Kitfield will remain on staff, however, and Wiscasset Family Medicine’s innovative programs, home-like environment, and patient-centered philosophy will remain the same. “Not a lot is changing,” Linville said.
Kitfield plans to maintain his regular office hours and continue to treat patients. Wiscasset Family Medicine’s addiction treatment program, in-house surgical procedures and laboratory testing, behavioral health assessment and treatment, on-call doctor service, transgender medical treatment, and preventive and acute medical care for all age groups will hopefully not just continue but grow, Linville said.
With an increasing number of primary-care physicians opting to work for hospital chains, private-practice family medicine is on a downswing, Kitfield said.
“Our primary goal is to make sure everyone will have continued access to family medicine,” Linville said.
Kitfield opened Wiscasset Family Medicine on Water Street in 1977, shortly after completing the Maine-Dartmouth Family Medicine Residency program in Augusta. He was a member of one of the program’s first graduating classes.
“People brought me into family medicine,” Kitfield said. As a family physician, Kitfield made himself available to his patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“It was a little bit like a barbershop in the beginning with drop-in visits,” Linville said. Kitfield would see anyone who walked into his office – the charge for a visit in the early years was $7. Wiscasset Family Medicine’s patient base quickly grew, as did its staff. Physician’s Assistant Sarah Robey joined Kitfield in the practice’s first year.
The practice now has 17 staff members, including two family physicians, two physician’s assistants, a family nurse practitioner, a licensed clinical social worker, and several administrative staff. The staff serves about 3,000 patients, Linville said.
“Eventually, we had to get (scheduled) appointments going,” Kitfield said. However, Wiscasset Family Medicine’s 24-hour availability and practice of treating anyone who walks through the door did not change. Wiscasset Family Medicine’s staff is only a phone call away through the practice’s on-call service.
“You won’t find too many doctors that will come in on a Saturday to sew somebody up,” said Shelley Strozier, Wiscasset Family Medicine’s office manager. The on-call system has prevented many of Wiscasset Family Medicine’s patients from having to seek treatment at an emergency room, she said.
Obstetrics, the branch of medicine concerned with childbirth, was one of the highlights of Kitfield’s career, he said. Kitfield established an in-house birthing center at Wiscasset Family Medicine where he helped deliver many of the practice’s current patients.
The birthing center provided a comfortable, home-like environment for women who did not want to give birth in a hospital. “It was an amazing period of time,” he said. The birthing center was one of several progressive programs Kitfield established at Wiscasset Family Medicine.
Wiscasset Family Medicine was forced to close the birthing center due to a dramatic increase in the cost of malpractice insurance, Kitfield said, but many other programs he established remain a part of Wiscasset Family Medicine’s daily operations.
Long before the heroin epidemic began to make headlines in Maine, Kitfield was providing patients with medication-assisted addiction treatment. Wiscasset Family Medicine established a Suboxone clinic in 2004, which it has run ever since.
The addiction treatment clinic “is opening a door for people that makes recovery possible,” Kitfield said. “I’ve seen life open up again for (patients). They start to feel good again. They can hold down a job. They stop dying.”
Wiscasset Family Medicine also offers some surgical procedures in-house, such as surgery to address melanoma, or skin cancer. Patients appreciate Kitfield’s willingness to conduct the procedures in an environment where they are comfortable, he said.
Wiscasset Family Medicine also provides a safe, respectful space for transgender patients to receive treatment related to gender transition, Linville said.
The community connections Wiscasset Family Medicine has built over the past 40 years “enables us to do family medicine,” Linville said. “When you know the family and you know the community, it makes a huge difference” in the level and quality of care provided, she said.
Linville and Kitfield share the same “whole-person, whole-family approach,” to medicine, which takes into account not just the problems, but also the positives, Linville said. Patients and staff are “team members” who work together to help patients achieve their wellness goals, she said.
This shared philosophy and approach to family medicine prompted Kitfield to recruit Linville to join the practice. Linville is a doctor of osteopathy, a fully licensed physician who has completed additional training in the musculoskeletal system of muscles, nerves, and bones. The training gives special attention to the mind-body-spirit connection, Linville said.
Kitfield knew he was ready to slow down. He was lamenting the shortage of family physicians willing to work in private practice in the office one day, Linville said. A staff member familiar with Linville’s work referred Kitfield to her.
“Initially, I said, ‘No, thank you,’” to the offer to leave her position at Parkview Medical Center in Brunswick and join the practice, Linville said. However, she continued to think about the offer and, after long consideration of the career change, she accepted. “I decided I was really interested and excited about private practice,” she said.
The reduction in private family medical practices is just one of many changes in medicine Kitfield has witnessed over the past 40 years, he said. When he obtained his medical degree, there was no training about insurance or medical coding for billing purposes, he said.
Now, it is impossible to be in medicine without having to learn about insurance, coding, and billing – none of which have anything to do with patient care, Linville said.
Kitfield would like to see a single-payer health care system, which would guarantee every individual access to a certain level of health care.
In his “gradual transition into old age,” his immediate concern was ensuring Wiscasset Family Medicine’s patients continue to have access to the same level of high-quality, patient-centered care in a family environment. With the transfer in ownership, patients will have that access for years to come, Linville said.
“As the new owner, I will keep this practice running,” Linville said.
Over the past 40 years, Kitfield has cared for people “from the cradle to the grave,” he said. “My job has been a life of service to the community,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful career, but it’s not done yet.”