GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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October 25, 2011

Lahey closing down Essex clinic

ESSEX — The Essex branch of the Lahey Clinic, which provides primary care services for several hundred Essex residents, will be closing on Nov. 11.

Anyone passing the clinic's Martin Street office would see the giant "for sale" sign in front of the building, but only the patients were being informed that the sale of the building would mean an end to the clinic's presence in Essex.

Charlene Watkins, a nurse practitioner, is the only health care provider at the clinic, and is also part of the Air Force Reserve. She has been called up for a six-month deployment to Germany, so the clinic would have to close in her absence.

The reasons why the clinic will not reopen are a bit more complicated.

"The first reason (for the location closing) is that the lease on the building is expiring," said Pam Johnston, director of new media for the Lahey Clinic. "Lahey has alternate locations at Hamilton-Wenham and Ipswich."

With the two clinics in nearby towns, Lahey sees no reason to reopen the Essex clinic after Watkins returns, according to Johnston. Watkins will practice at the Hamilton-Wenham location in the future.

"(Essex) is a very small practice," said Johnston. "There hasn't been a full-time physician at this location in several years, people would come and go, but there always was a nurse practitioner."

Johnston was adamant that the change has nothing to do with the merger between Lahey and Northeast. The clinic serves as a primary care facility, while the hospitals house specialists and provide emergency care.

Patients seem sanguine about the change.

Pam Hartley, 62, said she and her husband would simply use a different location for their health care needs.

"It's more convenient to come here," said Hartley. "But it's a matter of five minutes away versus 10 minutes away."

Workers at the clinic declined to comment for this story, citing patient privacy laws. The town Board of Health said the change was outside of their jurisdiction, and declined comment.

Stephanie Bergman can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at sbergman@gloucestertimes.com.

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