2018-04-05 / Front Page

Dr. England retires with generations of fond memories

BY RYAN GIBBS


— Dr. Joseph England — Dr. Joseph England Friday was bittersweet for Dr. Joseph England. After 34 years practicing medicine on Southwest Avenue, the family physician hung up his stethoscope for a woodwind.

From newborns to nonagenarians, England’s patients surprised him with cakes and hugs while he cleared his drawers and put the finishing touches on some paperwork. The Winona Street resident, 62, spent his entire career in Jamestown.

“This has been my only practice,” he said. “That’s what made it special. I’ve known everyone for so long. It’s a real part of me.”

England’s retirement coincides with the expiration of his contract with Lifespan, the nonprofit health system that administers facilities throughout the state, including Rhode Island Hospital. The decision was not made overnight; England began mulling his contract last summer. His decision was made easier because he believed the doctors he had on staff “would really do a good job.”

England has relished the community during his three decades in town, particularly the camaraderie. “There’s a certain closeness,” he said. “People were very accepting of me and allowed me to be the small-town doctor that I always wanted to be.”

The Cranston native earned his undergraduate degree from Providence College in 1977 and received his medical degree from the University of Vermont in 1981. He was hired in Jamestown after completing his residency at Connecticut’s Middlesex Hospital in 1984. He has remained here since, as a doctor and resident.

As a general family practitioner,

England’s patients ranged in age from 96 hours to 96 years. Some of his patients have been with him their entire lives, from the delivery room in the mid- 1980s until last week. Now in their 30s, some of these patients bring their own infant children to see the doctor they have known since day one. In some cases, he’s been the doctor of families through three generations.

“You age with your patients,” he said.

Ellen Lane, who has been a medical assistant with England for 14 years, said his kindness stretches from the patient’s room to the front desk.

“He always gives us flowers for holidays and he had wonderful parties at his house every year for us,” she said. “He always appreciated everything that we did, little or big.”

Since England announced his retirement in October, Lane said she has heard “some of the most unbelievable stories” from the patients about the quality of his care.

“He wasn’t just a doctor, he was a mentor to them and he was their friend,” she said. “Nothing was too big or too small. You could come in with a splinter or a huge laceration, and he would take the time to do whatever you needed. He’s going to be missed by everyone for so many different reasons.”

Since arriving at 20 Southwest Ave. during the Reagan presidency, England’s office has expanded in both size and staff. The most significant change, however, has been the alterations in continuity care, he said. When England started, he would visit his patients no matter where they were, from delivery rooms to emergency rooms to nursing homes. That is no longer the case.

“It’s become a much more disjointed system,” he said. “The idea of the family doctor who did it from birth to death is gone. It just doesn’t exist. You’re not taking care of your own patients in the hospital anymore. Every nursing home has its own medical director who pretty much takes everybody over. When the babies are born, there are hospital staff nurse practitioners who take care of them.”

Another change surfaced in 1995. That year, his private practice became affiliated with Newport Hospital in order to manage contracts for health maintenance organizations, which were popular in the 1990s. Two years later, the hospital and its care group were purchased by Lifespan.

Although England has retired as a general care doctor, he will continue to see his hospice and palliative care patients. As a founding member of the Jamestown Community Band, England will “very likely” use his newfound free time to expand his involvement with the troupe. During his working days, he only had time to perform as a saxophonist and flutist during holidays.

“All I’ve really been able to do is show up to play in the parades,” he said. “I just didn’t have the time.”

Following his retirement, Dr. Lauren Goddard and nurse practitioner Nancy Jones will be seeing England’s patients. In two weeks, Dr. Halina Harding will join the office as his nominal replacement. A native of Michigan, Harding comes to Jamestown from her previous practice in Warwick. England spoke to his successor after she was chosen with a brief introduction to the island he will continue to call home.

“This a great town,” he said. “I think she’ll enjoy it.”

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