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Posted: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 12:00 am

After 15 years of medical provider stability, residents of Star and the surrounding area are about to lose that with Physician Assistant Dave Buckland announcing the closure of his practice. The closure once again leaves the east side of the county with only one provider, PA Larry Elliot in Candor.

Buckland is going to Premier Internal Medicine and Urgent Care, 610 N. Fayetteville Street in Asheboro, where he will work as an independent contractor, along with PA Hans White, who had also previously worked in Montgomery County.

Buckland said he had little time to make a decision after learning that the N.C. medical board decided that his physician preceptor, Dr. David Russell, was too far away in Monroe. Russell, a native of Star, has been Buckland’s preceptor for almost seven years, but the board wanted someone local. “Dr. Russell was an excellent preceptor and I really appreciate his support; he was wonderful,” said Buckland.

Although he’s had numerous offers of assistance from other physicians and expressed deep appreciation for those, various insurance issues have arisen that would take months to straighten out, even if a doctor’s insurance company could be convinced to cover the preceptor/PA relationship.

“We had only a 30-day time frame to meet the medical board’s guidelines,” Buckland said. “Then I would have been without income for three months; it takes that long to change over insurance. I did that before when I bought the practice in 2003. It kills me to have to leave but I’ve got to make a living. I’m 57 years old and I can’t go through another financial loss at this stage.”

Buckland had been filling in at Premier’s Asheboro facility and when the medical board issue came up, the owner, Dr. Tanvir Chodri offered him an opportunity. Buckland made the decision June 29 to accept Chodri’s offer. Letters announcing the change started going out to patients that week.

“It’s been an emotional time. I’ve had many of these patients for almost 16 years,” said Buckland, adding that many of the patients cried at the news and he’s had to work hard to cut off his own tears. While some patients will likely follow him to his new office, he’s concerned about who will absorb some of his older patients for whom the trip to Asheboro may be too much. He noted that RCATS may be a transport option.

Buckland’s last work day at the Star clinic will be July 29. He and his staff are in the process of getting records out to patients who want them. He will also have someone in the office for about two months following his departure to close things down. Patients can request their records by writing to CNC Family Medical Center, PO Box 190, Star, NC 27356.

Buckland had no intention of moving from New York state in the mid 1990s when he ran into White, with whom he had served in the military, at a Texas medical conference. White eventually convinced him to at least come look.

After seeing the area, meeting people and seeing the clinic building, “We fell in love with it,” he said. With their two sons out of high school, they decided to make the move. Buckland arrived in February 1995 to get the office open.

Buckland emphasized that although his workplace is changing, the family will continue to live in Montgomery County where they have established strong roots. He will continue his involvement with the free clinic scheduled to open in Biscoe in July or August, will maintain his commitment to Communities in Schools, his church and other activities. Working three 12-hour days per week, he hopes to expand his community activities by doing mentoring and reading in the school system.

“His practice has been a huge part of the community for many years, not just Star but a large surrounding area,” said Star Mayor Susan Eggleston. The town owns the equipped clinic building and Eggleston said she expects the issue of trying to find someone else to come in will be discussed at the next town board meeting.

Eggleston expressed disappointment at the state’s decision and that they didn’t allow more time to get something worked out so Buckland could continue his Star practice. “We need to do what we can to help small rural communities that are the background of the state,” she said.

On the other hand, she expressed pleasure in knowing that Buckland and his family will remain in the county. “We will continue to look to him for leadership; he’s been such a part of the community,” she said.