Three Singing River Health System neurologists wrote a letter to top hospital leaders in May 2016 to express concerns over the “inappropriate” way in which Dr. Terry Millette diagnosed patients with multiple sclerosis, lawsuit filings show.
In the May 10, 2016, letter, the SRHS neurologists — Lennon Bowen, Christopher Karcher and William Evans — reported their concerns about the “inappropriate” diagnosis of neurology patients that “went beyond diagnostic error or uncertainty that we feel would be expected in the routine practice of medicine/neurology.”
The letter was addressed to then-CEO Kevin Holland and other executives. It went out the same month SRHS launched an investigation to determine if Millette was misdiagnosing and mistreating patients for MS.
The letter included a sampling of patient medical files identified only by numbers, but that information was redacted in the civil filings.
The three doctors said their letter was not meant to “accuse any individual of wrongdoing, nor are we asking or requesting any particular action in regards to these concerns.”
The sampling of cases they provided, the doctors added, came to their attention in “a variety of ways.”
“’We recognize that as employees of Singing River Health System, we are not in a position to make any judgment or take any action in these matters beyond presenting and reporting our concerns,’” the doctors wrote.
In closing, the doctors said, “if it is determined an internal mechanism does not exist to address this matter, please communicate the decision in writing.’”
Gulfport attorney Tim Holleman, who is one of the attorneys representing patients in lawsuits against SRHS and Millette, commended the neurologists who shared their concerns.
“That is pretty strong for these doctors to put in writing their concerns to the hospital they work for,” said Holleman. “I admire all three physicians for standing up to Singing River.”
That and other information came out in court records related to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Gwendolyn Davis Clayton and Derek Clayton.
Gwendolyn and Derek Clayton are seeking compensation for negligence and other claims, alleging SRHS knew Millette was misdiagnosing patients “long before” May 2016, but still allowed him to “negligently misdiagnosis and mistreat many patients.”
The lawsuit is one of 17 pending against Millette and SRHS on behalf of patients who have since learned they were misdiagnosed with the autoimmune disease.
Gwendolyn Clayton’s MS diagnosis came in 2008, a short time after she started seeing Millette.
In November 2016, SRHS sent out a letter to Millette’s patients, including Gwendolyn, saying a review of Dr. Millette’s diagnosis and treatment of MS patients was underway and he was no longer affiliated with SRHS.
SRHS arranged for her to see other neurologists who determined she had been misdiagnosed with MS and treated with costly drugs that resulted in severe side effects.
A month after the three doctors reported their concerns in May 2016, SRHS retained an independent neurologist to review 20 random patients files for those under Millette’s care, court filings say.
By that July, the independent neurologist requested 10 more random patient files for review, resulting in an initial report filed by the SRHS Peer Review Committee.
After an August meeting among members of the peer review committee, the same random patients files were sent to a second independent neurologist for review.
SRHS said it retained the two independent reviewers in “anticipation” of potential litigation.
As a result of the investigation, SRHS cut ties with Millette in November 2016. Given the choice to resign or face termination, Millette chose to resign from SRHS, effective Dec. 15, 2016 — more than a month before his five-year contract expired.
He received a confidential severance package. Attorneys asked for details about the compensation package, but SRHS and Millette would not provide them, citing confidentiality laws.
The same day Millette’s resignation took effect, SRHS reported its independent investigative findings to the State Board of Medical Licensure, court records say.
Millette claims SRHS’ move to get rid of him was “personal” and has since opened his own practice. Many of his patients followed him to his new practice and countless others still praise him for his treatment over the years.
The crux of the argument is whether SRHS and Millette provided patients with the standard level of care. Millette believed in early diagnosis and treatment of MS patients.
Though SRHS cut ties with Millette, he still retains medical staff privileges at the hospital, with the exception of admitting MS patients.
Despite the investigation, SRHS said the Peer Review Committee did not determine the total number of patients Millette reportedly misdiagnosed.
SRHS wants out
SRHS is asking a judge to dismiss the hospital as a defendant in the civil litigation, arguing Millette was a contract employee at SRHS when he misdiagnosed Gwendolyn Clayton in 2008.
Millette become an employee of SRHS in October 2011 and continued to misdiagnose and mistreat her for MS for four more years, court papers say.
It wasn’t until the split between SRHS and Millette in 2016 that she and other former Millette patients learned they may have been misdiagnosed.
SRHS insists that even if Millette is found liable for negligence, SRHS should not be held accountable because he was a contract employee at the time of her initial diagnosis.
In addition, Millette and SRHS maintain the statute of limitations to file suit had already lapsed.
Circuit Judge Robert Krebs was set to hear some of the cases, but has since recused himself from the proceedings along with Judges Kathy King Jackson and Dale Harkey.
The state Supreme Court has appointed Special Judge Jimmy Bell to hear the cases.
The judge has not yet heard the motions from SRHS and defense attorneys regarding their requests for additional information and other matters.
Millette’s attorneys declined to comment.
SRHS issued a statement Thursday, saying: “Our priority ...is to provide the highest quality care for every patient we serve, and we foster an environment where our medical staff or any staff member is encouraged to share their opinions throughout the continuum of care. We take all concerns seriously through the independent Clinical Peer Review process, including additional reviews by external independent sources with no connection to any of our physicians or our organization, as was done in this case.”
May 10, 2016 - Three Singing River Health System neurologists reported wrote to express concerns over the “inappropriate” way in which Dr. Terry Millette was diagnosing patients with multiple sclerosis.
May 2016 - An investigation was requested into the way in which Millette diagnosed and treated “certain” patients.
May 2016 - SRHS Peer Review Committee launched an investigation.
June 14, 2016 - SRHS Peer Review Committee asks an independent neurologist to look at 20 of Millette’s patient files, all picked at random.
July 2016 - The independent neurologist asked to review 10 additional files of patients under Millette’s care, all of which were picked at random.
July 29, 2016 - SRHS’s Peer Review report was submitted.
Aug. 15, 2016 - Independent neurologist reviewing Millette’s patient files does an on-site visit at SRHS following the submission of his initial report.
Aug. 15, 2016 - SRHS’ Combined Peer Review committee meeting minutes are filed in relation to Millette probe.
Oct. 24, 2016 - SRHS counsel writes a memo regarding an interview with SRHS Dr. Christopher Karcher.
Oct. 27, 2016 - SRHS counsel writes a memo regarding an interview with SRHS Dr. William Evans.
Nov. 1, 2016 - Kim Monson, director of compliance services and privacy officer sends an email to independent neurologist regarding the patient files for review.
Nov. 9, 2016 - An independent neurologist reviewing the random patient files sends an email to SRHS attorneys Carly Duvall and Lisa Krigsten.
Nov. 8, 2016 - An independent neurologist provided Peer Review report to SRHS attorneys regarding the review of Millette’s medical records.
Nov. 10, 2016 - Then SRHS CEO Kevin Holland sends an email to SRHS attorneys to update in the probe to SRHS’ Board of Trustees in relation to the Millette.
Nov. 11, 2016 - The minutes of the SRHS Medical Executive Committee’s special executive session drafted.
Nov. 13, 2016 - Then-SRHS CEO Holland sends an email to SRHS lawyers regarding the update in the probe to the Board of Trustees.
Nov. 15, 2016 - Millette’s confidential severance package and his termination from SRHS employment reached. Given the option, Millette resigns, effective in December 2016.
Nov. 16, 2016 - Independent neurologist submit their reports.
Nov. 16, 2016 - SRHS sends a letter to Millette’s patients to let them know he is no longer an employee of SRHS and refers certain patients to other neurologists to determined if they were misdiagnosed with MS.
Nov. 17, 2016 - Holland sends an email to update happenings to the Board of Trustees.
Dec. 15, 2016 - SRHS lawyer reports the findings to the state Board of Medical Licensure.