Tens of thousands of patients are scrambling to find new doctors, fill prescriptions, and reschedule appointments following the abrupt closure of a large physician group that had six offices throughout Southeast Massachusetts.
Compass Medical, which has 80 physicians and serves 70,000 patients, said late Wednesday night that it would be closing its practices, effective immediately. Compass urged patients to go to their nearest local emergency room or urgent care center for medical attention in the interim.
By Thursday afternoon, Compass’s website noted that many of its doctors had joined Atrius Health, a large medical group practice that was recently acquired by the for-profit company Optum Care. But it remained unclear how soon patients would be able to reschedule appointments and medical tests that had been canceled with no warning.
“It’s really bad,” said Kerri Guilette, a Compass Medical patient from Brockton who said she had been unable to get two prescriptions filled despite repeatedly calling a phone number provided by Compass. “The only thing I could think to do is start looking for a new doctor, and a lot of the people I’ve called so far don’t take my insurance.”
Meanwhile, state officials, including the governor’s and attorney general’s offices, promised to look into the Compass closing, while emergency management coordinators in that part of the state met Thursday to help organize options for patients.
Compass executives have not explained the abrupt closure, noting only that it faced “a steady stream of challenges” in a statement posted to its website Wednesday night. In a subsequent statement, Dr. Bruce Weinstein, president of Compass’s board, said most of the company’s physicians would still provide medical care locally, and patients would be able to access medical records.
“We deeply regret the impact that Compass Medical P.C.’s closure will have on our patients and would like them to know that we are implementing a plan to ensure the continuity of their care,” he said.
The closure comes months after Compass was ordered to pay Steward Health Care more than $16 million, after a jury in Suffolk County found the doctors group liable for breach of contract, misrepresentation, and unjust enrichment. An attorney for Steward told the Globe that Compass had raised the possibility of bankruptcy at a court hearing in January.
The former Compass patients are looking for doctors amid a shortage of primary care doctors and a surge in other patients seeking care. The situation in Southeastern Massachusetts is especially acute because two hospitals in the area have been closed for an extended period, leaving emergency rooms at other facilities and physician practices overwhelmed.
Several Compass patients said they were shocked at the sudden closure and felt helpless, unable to reach their doctors or fill prescriptions.
Courtney Beggs, a professor at Curry College who lives in Taunton, was scared and angry to learn that an ultrasound scheduled for Monday had been canceled. She had been on edge since March, when she received a letter from her doctor telling her that a lump they had detected in her thyroid needed immediate attention to determine whether it is cancerous. Her doctor urged her to not delay making an appointment.
“This delay can lead to serious threat to your health, life and may lead to death,” her doctor said in the letter.
Now, Beggs is desperately trying to find a provider to diagnose her condition. As a last resort, Beggs said she would try to schedule a scan at Morton Hospital in Taunton, although so far she had been unable to access her medical records.
“This shouldn’t happen to anybody,” Beggs said. “I live in the state with the most advanced medical care in the country, but no one seemed to be aware or worried this was coming or how it might overwhelm the state medical system. Everyone will be impacted by that.”
Late Thursday, Compass posted a link on its website that allows patients to request their records. The company’s patient portal was also working again Thursday night.
Dawn Dutcher, a longtime patient and former employee who lives in Middleborough, said she called her doctor’s office after hearing about the closure on Facebook. The closure has left Dutcher worried about a family member who also goes to the practice and has been diagnosed with a kidney disorder.
“We talked and she was in a panic yesterday,” Dutcher said. “She’s left with no answers. There are lots of patients out there that are not in good shape that will unfortunately, sadly, continue to decline in the interim. You already don’t have enough primary care people able to take new patients. If they do, they are booking out into the fall at this point.”
Guilette, meanwhile, said that if she cannot get her prescriptions renewed, she will go to a local urgent care center. She noted the emergency room at one of the hospitals near her, Good Samaritan Medical Center, has been very busy because of the closure of Brockton Hospital, which has been shut since a fire on Feb. 7.
Other providers in the area already have begun seeing an influx, at a time when they have already been overrun by other patients, following the extended closures of Norwood Hospital due to flooding in 2020, and Brockton Hospital.
Aimee Brewer, chief executive of Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, said the facility’s Norton location got phone calls Wednesday and Thursday from patients suddenly with nowhere to go. Several showed up in the emergency department, saying they had appointments and needed refills of medication. Patients with OBGYN needs have called the health system’s women’s center looking for care.
“We were left scrambling to try to meet patients’ needs,” Brewer said. “It was a bit concerning. While we have not been able to connect with any leadership from Compass, we have been working with other organizations to see how we can temporarily meet these patients’ needs.”
Regional emergency management coordinators met early Thursday to organize a regional response and better manage patient needs. Local health systems volunteered to bolster urgent care staffing and extend hours to accommodate an influx of patients.
State leaders said they were looking into the abrupt closure.
“Let me say at the outset, anytime people’s ability to access health care is interfered with, that’s troubling,” Governor Maura Healey said Thursday.
Compass also owes Steward an enormous sum. The physician group had initially sued Steward, claiming the large health system had breached a services agreement with the physician organization. However in October 2022, a jury found Compass liable instead.
Steward’s attorney Howard Cooper, of Todd & Weld LLP in Boston, said the organization has not paid the verdict, which with interest is currently more than $25 million. In a statement, Steward said it had not yet sought to collect the payment.
Samantha Gross of the Globe staff contributed reporting