Dr. Henry Akiyama has postponed his December retirement apparently until he finds a qualified doctor to take over his large Juneau practice.
The move puts to rest fears that some of his patients would go without local medical care in his absence.
Akiyama declined to be interviewed, but the longtime internist has hung a sign at his Glacier Avenue office that reads: "Dr. Akiyama has decided to extend his medical practice because his primary concern is the welfare of his patients. His top priority before retiring is to make certain his patients have access to continued medical care."
Akiyama's administrator, Candi Harris, has said he is in negotiations with another physician to take over the practice, but the deal likely will not be final in time for the internist to retire by the end of December as planned.
"There wasn't enough time to complete everything we needed to get done, so instead of leaving everybody hanging, he's just going to postpone (retirement) for a while," said Harris, who declined to give more information while the deal is pending.
Akiyama's planned departure at year's end troubled physicians who worried he would leave before finding another internist to take over his practice. Local physicians said they could not accommodate all of Akiyama's estimated 6,000 patients, and they recommended Bartlett Regional Hospital help recruit another internist.
Bartlett earlier this month launched a nationwide search for his successor, but administrators said it was unlikely they could recruit someone before Akiyama retired and that some of his patients probably would have to travel south for treatment.
Akiyama's office faxed a notice to Bartlett on Friday reading: "Dr. Akiyama is postponing his retirement at this time and will continue until further notice."
Bartlett Administrator Robert Valliant said Akiyama's decision takes some pressure off the hospital to recruit a replacement, but the search will go on.
"Of course we'll continue to look. It's bought us some time," said Valliant, who estimates it could take more than a year to recruit another internist. "I'm sure any continuation of his practice is contingent on getting someone in to take over his patient load. So he'll either bring someone in or we will."
But, added Valliant, if Akiyama "brings someone into his practice, then the hospital will not bring anyone in."
Akiyama is one of four local internists doctors who specialize in adult medicine and treat a wide range of maladies. Internist Dr. John Krehlik is recruiting for another internist to join his practice, Juneau Medical Clinic, and Family Practice Physicians also has two internists on staff. Physicians from both offices have said they could accommodate some of Akiyama's patients, but they expressed concern about the internist departing in December.
Akiyama has searched for his successor the past three years, but he has turned away most candidates because they didn't meet his standards, said Harris of Akiyama's office.