Gilles Bouchard, MD of Stanstead, Quebec
For four decades, there when you needed him

gilles bouchard
© 2007 Gordon Alexander
Gilles Bouchard, MD

Posted 03.27.07

STANSTEAD, QC | Earlier this year, the Vermont Senate and House of honored Dr. Gilles Bouchard for his role as a caring, compassionate physician who has treated patients in southern Quebec and northern Vermont for the past forty-three years.

The resolution, spearheaded by Representative Loren Shaw of Derby, was signed by Representatives Scott Wheeler of Derby, Michael Marcotte of Coventry, Duncan Kilmartin of Newport, along with Senators Vince Illuzzi of Derby and Bobby Starr of Troy.

Reacting to the state award and almost choking up with emotion, Dr, Bouchard, who received the award in his Stanstead, office, said he has never received any major recognition from either side of the border. The framed award hangs in his waiting room.

"Dr Bouchard is more than my Doctor, he is my friend," said Rep. Shaw. "He has been there when I needed him and he has been there when a lot of other people needed him. He really deserves this recognition for all those years of service.

There is a sign outside Dr Bouchard's Dufferin Street office door that reads: "No one must pay if you are short of money. Just say "Thanks, Doc."

That sign pretty much sums up Dr. Bouchard's attitude and sympathy for his patients on both sides of the US-Canadian border.

Dr. Bouchard, 72, has worked and practiced in the Newport area as well as the border town of Stanstead. He went into semi-retirement several years ago after opting out the Quebec health plan under which he would submit his patients bills to Quebec for payment.

On a normal business day in the past, you would see more Vermont cars in front of his home and office than Canadian cars. But as of April 1, 2006, Dr. Bouchard was forced to stop providing medical care to non-Canadian patients because of a new ruling by all Canadian insurance companies that now refuse coverage to non-Canadian residents except in cases of emergency.

According to Dr. Bouchard, this ruling was put into place by the Insurance companies due to a statistical higher risk of litigation from US patients than Canadian patients.

"Unless I stopped seeing my American patients I could not get malpractice insurance coverage. Without insurance I could be refused my license to practice medicine in Canada, so what could I do? Malpractice Insurance rates are much, much cheaper in Canada. The same coverage in the United States in unbelievable."

" I still have my license to practice medicine in the United States but it is too expensive to keep if I can't take American patients, so I might as well give it up."

In the past forty-three years, Dr. Bouchard has cared for visiting astronauts, sports stars, a professional wrestler, and an assortment of fifty or so other doctors all who heard of the friendly family doctor living on the border.

"NHL Players, Guy Lafleur and Mad Dog Vachon, the wrestler, have been in my office," he said.

Before going into semi-retirement his office was open five and a half days a week. In the evenings he would start his second shift by visiting senior residences in the area in both Canada and the United States. He now has office hours only six days a week for six hours a day.

"Now that I am semi -retired, I can cut back to working full-time " he joked.

Dr. Bouchard does not have a staff, other than his wife Madeline, who looks after the book work.

"When you call my office, the doctor answers," he said.

"I received some good advice from my good friend and a former associate, the late Dr. James Quintin from Sherbrooke.

Be available was his advice."

The doctor took this advice to heart and made it part of his professional work ethic, continuing to make house calls even after other doctors stopped.

"More doctors should make house calls," he said. "It is a good way to really see how some of your patients live and what they face every day."

He has treated Canadian and American patients alike on a pay-as-you-go-if0you can, basis, not turning anyone away -- If they couldn't pay, they'd never get a bill.

Dr. Bouchard implemented this policy some years ago when a man brought his child to him. He was bleeding from the ear.

"I asked the father how long this had been going on, to which he replied: "Five days."

I angrily asked him why he didn't bring the child in sooner; he then hung his head replying that he had to wait until pay day. After that my sign went up."

Dr. Bouchard is a native of Stanstead and the oldest of eight children. He attended classes through the eighth grade in Stanstead before matriculating at the Sherbrooke Academy for his secondary and college education. Bouchard then attended the University of Montreal where he earned his medical degree.

In 1963, after completing his internship training at five hospitals in the Montreal area, Dr. Bouchard returned home to Stanstead where he established a family practice on Dufferin St. He and his wife, Madeleine, whom he met in med school in 1961, are the parents of four sons and a daughter. None of his children have chosen the medical profession as a career.

During his career, Dr. Bouchard treated an estimated 500,000 patients from both sides of the border and delivered roughly 1000 babies, occasionally in his office, but mostly at the Orleans County Memorial Hospital in Newport, across the border. Those newborns, whose parents were Canadian, now claim dual American-Canadian citizenship.

Dr. Bouchard says he has always placed a premium on keeping current with the latest health care innovations, having taken postgraduate courses at The Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal and at Temple University in Philadelphia,

Back in 2004, Dr Bouchard came into the national spotlight as one of Stanstead's major attractions for American Senior citizens along with Pharmacy Diane Vaillancourt, just around the corner from the Canadian Customs and Immigration office in Rock Island.

These Americans , by carloads and busloads ,used to make a trip to the border town to stock up on common but expensive daily-use drugs, like Metformin for diabetes, Lipitor for high cholesterol, Cardizem for high blood pressure and Methotrexate for cancer. Prescription drugs that cost considerably less in Canada, were a blessing to those people with chronic illnesses who needed these drugs daily to survive and, in a lot of cases, who had low incomes.

When American seniors arrived at the pharmacy, with prescriptions from their US doctors, the pharmacist would send them up the hill to see Dr. Bouchard, who after a medical evaluation would rewrite their prescriptions (Canadian pharmacies can't fill American prescriptions).

They would then return to the pharmacy with the Canadianized prescription to be filled at a savings of at least forty percent.

it was all legal, but frowned on by some US Federal Drug Administration officials, who claimed that a lot of Canadian generic equivalent drugs had not been tested and approved.

According to medical sources, prescription rewriting by Canadian Doctors stopped last year after the organization that insures the vast majority of Canadian doctors, warned that if doctors continue rewriting prescriptions for American patients, they would be on their own in the event of a lawsuit.

These Canadian Insurance companies ultimately imposed a "no non-Canadians" coverage restriction that forced Dr . Bouchard and possibly many other physicians to give up administering medical services to American patients, except in emergency situations.

In spite of the prescription re-writing incentive, people came from as far away as New York and Connecticut to visit the kindly Dr. Bouchard. People living just over the border in Vermont -- both insured and uninsured -- consider Bouchard their primary care physician because he was more accessible than their doctors in the States. Many Canadian patients visited him for the same reasons, considering him to be more accessible than their own local doctor. Dr Bourchard's office was more like a country walk-in clinic.

Last year, Dr. Bouchard underwent intensive open heart surgery. "I was ten hours on the operating table with four hands inside my chest, they even changed my aorta I thought I was going to meet my ancestors," he said, with a laugh.

"For Dr. Bouchard there was no border between out two countries" said former patient Theresa Trotier of Newport. "He did not question patients as to citizenship, ethnicity, gender , creed, of financial status. He was there for who ever needed him " she said.

"It is too bad his insurance issues prevent him from continuing his treatment of US citizens, but let us be grateful for the many years he was allowed to do so," Mrs. Trotier said.

Copyright © 2007 Gordon Alexander/Log Cabin Chronicles/03.07