Jackson County

They warned SRHS for 10 years that Terry Millette was misdiagnosing patients, records say

Popular neurologist Terry Millette calls split with SRHS ‘personal’

Popular neurologist, Dr. Terry Millette, talks with the Sun Herald for the first time since he left Singing River. Video by Karen Nelson/Sun Herald klnelson@sunherald.com
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Popular neurologist, Dr. Terry Millette, talks with the Sun Herald for the first time since he left Singing River. Video by Karen Nelson/Sun Herald klnelson@sunherald.com

For more than 10 years, three Singing River Health System neurologists complained that Dr. Terry Millette was misdiagnosing patients with multiple sclerosis but no action was taken, a lawsuit says.

In May 2016, the three neurologists — Lennon Bowen, Christopher Karcher and William Evans — got fed up with the inaction and put their concerns in writing.

In the letter, the neurologists reported concerns about the “inappropriate” diagnosis of neurology patients that “went beyond diagnostic error or uncertainty.”

By October 2016, Evans — clearly upset over the handling of their complaint — sent an email to Dr. Randy Roth, SRHS chief medical officer, to ask when someone at the hospital was going to “stand up and say ‘enough is enough.’”

The doctors were upset because, when on call at the hospital, they were being asked to treat Millette patients for multiple sclerosis even though the doctors did not believe the patients had the illness, according to records in one of at least 17 lawsuits filed against SRHS and Millette.

“Despite 10+ years of complaining about Dr. Millette, he was permitted by SRHS to continue to treat people for multiple sclerosis when they did not have multiple sclerosis and SRHS facilitated such treatment and greatly profited from it,” says a motion filed in the lawsuit of former Millette patient Gwendolyn Clayton and husband Derek.

Seven lawsuits filed by attorneys Walter Morrison and Tim Holleman seek unspecified monetary damages for negligence and other claims. They say Millette prescribed costly medications with severe side effects as a result of the misdiagnoses.

“It is sad to think that if these three physicians had not said, ‘enough is enough,’ the plaintiffs would have continued to be treated for a disease they did not have and the defendants (Millette and SRHS) would continue to profit substantially to this day,” one of the case filings says.

Millette, who has said he believes in early diagnosis and treatment of MS patients, has denied any wrongdoing.

SRHS had asked to be dismissed as a defendant, arguing Millette was contract employee when he misdiagnosed Clayton in 2008. Millette started working as a regular employee at SRHS in October 2011 and continued to treat Clayton for MS for four more years.

When Millette resigned in 2016, the hospital wrote a letter to his patients to tell them they may have been misdiagnosed.

SRHS argues that even if Millette is found liable for negligence, the hospital should not be because he was a contract employee at the time of the diagnoses.

Millette and SRHS have also maintained that the statute of limitations for filing the lawsuits had already lapsed.

The investigation

SRHS launched an investigation only after the three neurologists wrote the May 2016 letter. The investigation included a review of patient files by two independent neurologists.

Millette resigned in November 2016, after Evans continued to express concerns about Millette’s patients in emails to the chief medical officer. His resignation took effect the following month.

Millette has claimed any move by SRHS to get rid of him was “personal.” He later opened his own practice, but it has since shut down.

SRHS said it had retained the independent reviewers in “anticipation” of potential litigation.

Millette’s resignation from SRHS took effect Dec. 15, 2016, the same day SRHS reported the results of its investigative findings to the State Board of Medical Licensure, records say.

SRHS ‘stall tactics’

After nearly two years of litigation, Holleman accused SRHS of consistently rejecting his attempts to question the three neurologists under oath, a routine part of pre-trial investigations called discovery that is undertaken by both sides in a lawsuit.

In fact, for nine months, attorneys Holleman and Morrison “begged” SRHS attorneys to come up with dates for the defense attorneys to question the neurologists, former CEO Kevin Holland, Roth and others.

Even with a court order from Special Judge Jame Bell, the patients’ attorneys were unable to get dates for questioning, a motion in one of the cases says, because SRHS was using “stall tactics.”

In one email in April 2019, Holleman wrote, in part, when again requesting date for depositions: “This has gone on long enough. It’s time to move these cases forward, get discovery done and trial dates.”

Holleman said it’s time to allow the plaintiffs “to discover the truth and prove their cases against SRHS and Dr. Millette.”

Margaret Baker is an investigative reporter whose search for truth exposed corrupt sheriffs, a police chief and various jailers and led to the first prosecution of a federal hate crime for the murder of a transgendered person. She worked on the Sun Herald’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Hurricane Katrina team. When she pursues a big story, she is relentless.