BANGOR, Maine — Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center (EMMC) is no longer accepting new patients for women’s primary care services due to low staffing. 

Northern Light’s vice president of clinical operations and chief of access officer Glenda Dwyer said there are 13 primary care physician openings at EMMC and a total of 37 primary care physician vacancies across Northern Light. 

Dwyer said new patients who need annual check-ups, pap smears, treatment for vaginal cysts, vaginal infections, menopause, or any other primary care service associated with women’s health care that is non-related to childbirth are being rerouted to other healthcare facilities. 

There are so many women who need care in the area, but Dwyer said EMMC only has enough providers to offer obstetric health care services, which is care related to childbirth. 

She said other providers in the area are struggling to offer primary health care services to women as well. 

“Even our private practitioners in the Bangor area—we tried to get them to say, ‘Oh yes we’ll accept those patients,’ and they’re not accepting them either,” Dwyer said. 

Dwyer said two providers recently left the practice, and their patients had to find new primary care providers. Patients who are turned away must drive to the Northern Light Inland Hospital or Maine Coast Hospital—more than 40 minutes away.

“It hurts your soul right—your personal—your personal drive to meet the mission,” Dwyer said. “It’s very difficult on a personal level. On a system level—we say we can provide you with a service. You may have to drive to Ellsworth or 25, 27 miles.”

Dwyer says some patients can’t afford to make that drive. EMMC is working to fill those positions—but Dwyer said it’s hard to recruit in the area.

Penobscot Community Health Care (PCHC) also offers gynecology and women’s health care services—but clinics recently had to suspend their walk-in primary care services due to low staffing. PCHC president and CEO Lori Dwyer said getting physicians to say yes to working in rural areas is the main struggle.

“It really requires an intentional outreach to people who grew up in rural places, who have connections to rural places and want to go back there and stay there,” Lori said. 

Glenda Dwyer said she tries her best to recruit providers from states that are in cold regions to promote an easy transition. She said even filling one position opens access to care for several women.

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