Longtime Vineyard pediatrician Dr. Michael Goldfein announces retirement

Martha’s Vineyard Hospital has hired pediatrician Dr. Sonya Stevens and will take over the private practice of Dr. Goldfein.

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Michael Cummo

Dr. Michael Goldfein, for years the Island’s only pediatrician, will retire on June 1. Martha’s Vineyard Hospital will take over the private practice Dr. Goldfein operated from rented office space in the hospital, continuing a shift from private practitioners to staff physicians that has changed the nature and delivery of Island health care.

Dr. Goldfein, a West Tisbury resident, announced his intention to retire in a letter dated Feb. 20 addressed to patients and parents.

“After practicing pediatrics on Martha’s Vineyard for 38 years, it is time for me to make some changes,” Dr. Goldfein said. “I had intended to continue practicing on a part-time basis for the next several years. Unfortunately, the hospital administration and I were unable to work out a plan for this to happen.”

Dr. Goldfein said the hospital had hired a pediatrician, Dr. Sonya Stevens, and she would begin working in his office this April on a part-time basis. He said all medical records would remain in the office at Vineyard Pediatrics, under the care of the hospital.

“It has been an extraordinary 38 years for me,” Dr. Goldfein said. “I cherish the relationships I have established with many of you, and the privilege of seeing an entire generation of children reach adulthood and become parents.”

In a telephone conversation Friday, Dr. Goldfein said his original plan was to continue working on a much more reduced schedule a few days per week, but he could not reach an accord with the hospital. “The hospital didn’t see their way to wanting to do that with me,” he said.

Dr. Goldfein said it is just as well, because he is unhappy with the trend to electronic medical recordkeeping, a technological wave that is burying small practices with new requirements. “It’s not economically feasible for an individual practice to go through the expense,” he said citing the cost and the time it takes to input data.

In his view, the only ones benefiting are the insurance companies, which can more intrusively monitor patient care. “The days of small private practices like mine are numbered,” he said.

Island roots

In a telephone conversation Monday, hospital CEO Tim Walsh said the hospital has been aware for some time that Dr. Goldfein wanted to step down from the demands of a full-time private practice.

Discussions about how Dr. Goldfein might integrate into the hospital’s pediatric and primary-care schedules on a part-time basis reached a sticking point, Mr. Walsh said, over the medical staff’s requirement that all doctors be available for on-call coverage. Ultimately, Mr. Walsh said, the overall needs of the hospital needed to be considered.

Mr. Walsh said Dr. Goldfein has been a valuable member of the Island’s medical community, and contributed greatly to the hospital and his patients. “Dr. Stevens has a strong Island connection,” he said, “and will bring her considerable skills and experience to the Island.”

Dr. Stevens, a lifelong summer visitor, is no stranger to the Island. Her great-uncle is Alden Besse, and her mother lives here. She grew up sailing at the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club. Her grandmothers, mary Stevens and Virginia Besse started Featherstone together.

She is a graduate of Brown University and the University of California School of Medicine. She completed her pediatric residency at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital. After practicing pediatrics for several years in Brookline, she joined Post Road Pediatrics in Sudbury in 2001.

Dr. Stevens moved to Martha’s Vineyard last fall with her husband and four children while commuting to Sudbury, with the expectation that she would begin work at the hospital once Dr. Goldfein retired. She told The Times she only learned of his letter announcing his retirement on Monday. She said her actual start date remains uncertain but that there wil be adequate coverage.

Jay Ferriter, hospital director of physician services, said Dr. Goldfein’s office space will be renovated and Dr. Stevens will join hospital pediatrician Dr. Melanie Miller. “She’s looking forward to working with Dr. Miller,” Mr. Ferriter said.

Hospital shift

For years, the majority of doctors on Martha’s Vineyard were private practitioners operating out of rented offices in the hospital. Each physician handled his or her own scheduling and billing.

The move to replace the ramshackle wooden medical center with a new, modern medical building ushered in another, less visible transformation, as hospital leaders set out to address the need, identified in numerous assessments of the community’s health care system, for more primary-care doctors to serve the growing Island population, and the difficult financial environment doctors faced in setting up a private practice on Martha’s Vineyard.

Rather than subsidize private practices while waiting for new doctors to become established, the hospital made the decision to hire doctors. As the hospital added staff, physicians who formerly made up the core of the Island’s private practitioners opted to become hospital employees. Dr. Goldfein was the exception.

Something significant

“It will be 38 years May 1,” Dr. Goldfein said about the start of his Island practice. A native of Brooklyn, he was in a private practice in Brookline. He had been working there about five years and teaching when Dr. Michael Jacobs, a friend and Island doctor, and his wife, Dr. Gretchen Jacobs, a psychiatrist, asked him to visit and help with some students who were having trouble.

“I started coming down periodically to evaluate some of the kids, and it became very apparent that this Island could use some pediatric care,” he said.

The timing was right. He had divorced, and recently remarried. “My new wife and I thought it would be interesting to check it out for a couple of years,” he said, echoing a commonly heard Vineyard refrain. His Brookline partner left his name on the office door for years.

But the change, from a town with access to high-quality health care to a rural Island, brought something else. In Brookline, he felt redundant. “Down here I felt like I was needed,” he said, “that I could do something significant.”

Asked what he will miss the most, he said, “I will miss the contact with my patients.”

A West Tisbury resident, he expects to spend a considerable amount of time traveling and spending time with his far-flung five children and seven grandchildren: “And then pursue some of my interests, and some of my hobbies.”

Dr. Goldfein is a photographer. His less common hobby — an admitted passion — is the sport of fencing. He is part of a group that practices weekly at the regional high school, and he has no plans to quit.

“I’m not retiring from fencing,” he said with a laugh. “As long as I have two legs under me I’ll be able to do that.”