Harrison County

Doctor ‘forced to retire’ from Memorial Hospital breast cancer center, he says

Memorial Hospital at Gulfport has dropped the contract for Dr. Donald Hopkins and the Breast Disease Clinic, the only one of its kind in the area dedicated to breast surgery and disease.
Memorial Hospital at Gulfport has dropped the contract for Dr. Donald Hopkins and the Breast Disease Clinic, the only one of its kind in the area dedicated to breast surgery and disease. Courtesy of Donald Hopkins

There won’t be a surgery clinic dedicated to breast disease on the Mississippi Coast after Aug. 21.

Memorial Hospital at Gulfport terminated its contract with Dr. Donald Hopkins and did not pick up the lease on his clinic. Patients have until next week to pick up copies of their medical records.

In the future, Hopkins told his patients in a letter printed in the Sun Herald recently, “your primary care physicians will be the best source of advice” on where to go for breast-related problems and surgery.

Patricia Erichsen, a longtime patient of his from Pass Christian, said he was “very, very good” and other doctors referred her to him.

“Dr. Hopkins is the only breast disease specialist south of Jackson and has saved many lives with his knowledge and expertise,” Erichsen told the Sun Herald. “What is Memorial thinking? They have not provided another breast disease specialist for us in this area. We will be shunted to surgeons who do not specialize in diseases of the breast.”

Hopkins, now 78, established himself on the Coast in 1986 as a surgeon specializing in breast issues and by 1989 had focused his practice entirely in that area. He became a 1995 charter member of the American Society of Breast Surgeons and promoted breast fellowships — one to two years of extra training, which is the standard now.

When he went with Memorial in 2009, he said, they promised to recruit an additional breast specialist for the Coast, but that didn’t happen.

Then “several months ago, I received a 90-day notice in my box,” he said. “They were terminating the contract with me and lease on my building.”

He first learned about the plan earlier this year and said he approached Memorial, because he didn’t want to retire. He said the hospital looked at his productivity and allowed his practice to continue for several months longer.

“Any implication that I voluntarily retired is absolutely wrong. I was basically forced into retirement,” he said, “because they are closing the clinic.”

He said it would be too difficult to re-establish a clinic because of his age and the bureaucracy of getting re-established with insurance companies.

While Memorial is closing the clinic, Dr. Paul Mace, a general surgeon with Gulfport Surgery Clinic, said there are still options for advanced breast surgery procedures on the Mississippi Coast. He and Dr. John Bailey at South Mississippi Surgeons in Jackson County each devote about half of their practice to breast surgery.

What does it mean to lose a clinic dedicated to breast disease?

“I know there are a lot of disappointed women,” Hopkins said.

When he sold his practice to Memorial, he said, there were just under 10,000 patient files. He saw women from South Mississippi, Louisiana and as far as Alabama.

His patients perceive him as a breast specialist, he said.

“I really wish they’d gotten another properly trained breast specialist for the women on the Coast,” he said. “There are plenty of good doctors down here and general surgeons are trained in breast surgery.

“But there’s a different way you manage an office that focuses on one specialty,” he said. “I look at every patient’s mammogram.”

He said he has caught many cases where needle breast biopsies were recommended, but he felt weren’t needed.

He said he never promoted the practice, he doesn’t believe in slick ads for doctors saying they’re the best. Still, he remained busy.

But most of all, he said, it’s a clinic, a focus, on this one area that is going away.

He said when he advised patients to rely on their primary care doctors for advice on where to go for care, “it doesn’t have to be restricted to Memorial, because they no longer have this specialized care.”

A spokeswoman for Memorial said, “Dr. Hopkins is retiring and breast disease appointments and procedures will now be provided by four general surgeons at Memorial General Surgery Clinic located in Memorial Medical Office Building, Suite 240.

“If patients choose to remain with Memorial, their records will automatically transfer to another Memorial provider. If patients need a copy of their records prior to Aug. 21, they may stop by Dr. Hopkins’ office. After Aug. 21, they may obtain their records at Memorial Health Information Management Department.”

Karen Nelson can be reached at 228-896-2310 or @NelsonNews_atSH

Former Ocean Springs Hospital administrator Dwight Rimes wants women in Mississippi to be told by their doctors if they have dense breasts. His wife is now battling Stage IV breast cancer after getting annual screenings as required.

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