Crescent City surgeon Dr. Thomas Polidore is relocating after spending more than two decades building a practice.

Polidore speculates he’s been involved in the care of roughly half the families in Del Norte and Curry counties, which, he says, has been a unique opportunity.

“Not only am I friends with these people, I’m also their physician,” he said. “It has been a tremendous experience in terms of the opportunity I’ve had for the last 21 years.”

Polidore’s last day with the Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation is Dec. 31.

A native of New Jersey, Polidore came to Crescent City in 1996 after serving in the U.S. Air Force as a physician. He started his practice as both a general and colorectal surgeon. He joined the Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation, a San Francisco-based medical group, in 2011.

After rearing three boys who have moved from Del Norte County, Polidore said he and his wife will also leave the area to be closer to family.

“The community has just opened up its arms to both myself and my family,” he said. “There are absolutely wonderful people who live in this community, but the time is right for us to move on to a new chapter.”

During the last 21 years, Polidore said one of the challenges working in the Crescent City area is getting other doctors to overlook its remoteness and be willing to practice in the community.

He’s one of the only general surgeons who works full time in Crescent City. Another works part-time and two general surgeons travel to the community to provide coverage for emergency services, Polidore said.

Other challenges include finding specialists for patients with complicated medical problems, Polidore said.

“When I first moved here ... I spent quite a bit of time on the phone calling up some people I had trained with and some medical-school buddies just to get ideas,” he said. “It’s not like you can walk down the hall and (run into) three other surgeons. Being in an isolated area like that, it’s difficult to practice medicine because you don’t have a lot of the other associations where you can sometimes get additional information.”

General surgery services will continue at Sutter Coast Hospital while it goes through the recruiting process, according to hospital CEO Mitch Hanna. The hospital is recruiting two general surgeons and has a number of qualified candidates.

The hospital just hired a new specialist, Dr. George Meyer, who will perform gastroenterology procedures including colonoscopies, Hanna said in a written statement Monday.

Polidore served as the hospital’s chief of staff for several years and was a member of its board of directors for eight, Hanna said.

“We are very honored and grateful for the many dedicated years of leadership, service and care that Dr. Polidore has provided our hospital and our community,” Hanna said. “He has been an exceptional partner in delivering high-quality care to our region, and we wish him success in his new role with Sutter Medical Group practicing at Sutter Roseville Medical Center.”

Polidore said he and his family have been part of the community in a variety of ways, but one that stands out was his opportunity to play semi-professional football in Brookings.

“Patients would come into my office on Monday morning still checking to make sure their doctor was still working,” he said. “I played two years of semi-pro football. I never missed a day of work because of playing football, which was a lot of fun.”