An oncologist has been ousted from his hospital over allegations that he’s been harming patients for years, though he’s garnered support from thousands of his patients and others opposed to his firing.
Thomas Weiner, MD, was reportedly dismissed from St. Peter’s Health in Helena, Montana, late last year for reasons that only became apparent in recent legal filings, and are now in dispute. These include a charge that he treated a patient for lung cancer for 11 years, but the person was found not to have the disease at the time of death, according to a Jan. 5 filing by the hospital.
St. Peter’s Health called Weiner’s narcotics prescribing “alarming,” alleging that it found no documentation of prescribing high-dose opioids to patients with non-cancer pain that was later revealed in a search of the state’s Prescription Drug Registry.
Weiner — who had worked at St. Peter’s since 1996 — gave up hospital privileges on Oct. 15, 2020, “in lieu of summary suspension,” according to the hospital’s court filing, and was then suspended indefinitely the next month. In December, Weiner filed a lawsuit against the hospital demanding a jury trial, and he also requested a preliminary injunction blocking the hospital from submitting an Adverse Action Report with the National Practitioner Data Bank.
In his suit, Weiner argued that the hospital had been trying to force him out since 2016, when medical staff “overwhelmingly supported a vote of ‘no confidence'” in the CEO at the time. Weiner had been accused of leading the revolt against the CEO.
“Dr. Weiner never ‘mistreated’ any of his patients,” Weiner’s attorney Devlan Geddes told MedPage Today in an email. “Further, Dr. Weiner disputes St. Peter’s Health’s contention that he treated a patient for cancer who was ‘cancer free.’ Due to patient privacy rights, however, Dr. Weiner cannot elaborate further on this issue.”
Currently, Montana’s medical board shows a clean record for Weiner, with no “adverse information.”
In a statement to MedPage Today, St. Peter’s said it “feel[s] strongly about the steps we’re taking to protect the safety of patients,” and that it is continuing “to serve our community’s cancer care needs” by staffing additional oncologists and aggressively recruiting new oncologists to join our permanent medical staff. Given pending litigation, the hospital said it could not comment further.
The hospital filed a response asking the judge overseeing the suit to deny the injunction Weiner requested, arguing that his dismissal was in the public’s best interest and would protect patients who could be harmed.
St. Peter’s reportedly told the court that Weiner never did a biopsy on the aforementioned patient to “confirm his conclusory, albeit inaccurate, cancer diagnosis.”
“More troubling is that the physicians who treated Patient 1 at the outside hospital noted that there was no conclusive evidence in the record that Patient 1 ever had lung cancer,” according to the hospital’s filing. “Quite simply, in the years in which Dr. Weiner ‘cared’ for this patient, he never had a biopsy completed to confirm Patient 1 actually had cancer. Nonetheless, he treated Patient 1 with highly toxic chemotherapy for more than a decade, resulting in the patient’s demise.”
St. Peter’s also accused Weiner of misdiagnosing other patients. One, for instance, had allegedly been on chemotherapy for 8 years without re-testing to determine if such treatment was necessary. The hospital also alleged that Weiner made little or no documentation of physical exams, and that some patients didn’t fully understand why they were being treated.
The filing also references an “unsolicited text” from Weiner to Todd Wampler, MD, president of St. Peter’s Health Medical Group. Weiner allegedly told Wampler to “put a muzzle on [a pulmonologist who saw Patient 1] or else,” which Wampler considered a threat.
Geddes, Weiner’s attorney, told the Helena Independent Record that it wasn’t a threat, and that the pulmonologist “was spreading a rumor that Dr. Weiner was prescribing chemotherapy treatments for patients who did not have cancer, which was an outright lie. Dr. Weiner texted Dr. Wampler asking him to rein in that pulmonologist.”
Despite the allegations from the hospital, Weiner has garnered support from thousands of patients and others who have signed onto a Facebook group, “We Stand with Dr. Tom Weiner,” which has almost 4,000 members.
Supporters also staged a Jan. 16 caravan involving some two dozen vehicles driving around the hospital, decorated with signs of support.
On Jan. 20, the Independent Record published an op-ed from two of Weiner’s patients, addressed “to all medical providers in Helena.” They complained that Weiner’s termination left them without continuity of care, leading to a “cascading, negative effect for all medical professionals in Helena: patients flooding into other practices in the area and some having to see primary care doctors when they need a specialist.”
The op-ed said Weiner saw some 60 patients a day, and that the hospital has brought in 18 locum tenens physicians to take Weiner’s place. Weiner had been the hospital’s only oncologist, according to the Independent Record.
According to Weiner’s suit, he had asked the hospital at one point to hire an additional oncologist “to share the load and relieve the burden it has placed on [him],” but the hospital was unable to find one.
A class-action lawsuit was also filed by patients in late October saying the hospital failed to notify some patients that Weiner was no longer their physician and that they had to find a new one. It also alleges that some patients had to reschedule life-saving treatments or other key appointments, and some kept being assigned to new doctors who weren’t familiar with the care they needed.
The Independent Record also reported that in February 2016, some nurses and patients feared that St. Peter’s administrators were actively seeking to replace Weiner due to his opposition to past decisions made by the board. The CEO of the hospital at the time denied the push to remove Weiner, according to the Independent Record.
Weiner had served on the hospital’s board in 2010; he was also chief of medical staff that year. No complaints against him were previously registered during his nearly 25 years at the hospital, according to his lawsuit.
In a letter to the Independent Record, hospital CEO Wade Johnson said the hospital conducted an extensive review of concerns and consulted with medical and legal experts before removing Weiner.
“We understand many people have been frustrated by the lack of information about Dr. Weiner’s departure,” Johnson told the newspaper. “Please know that he was swiftly and decisively removed from patient care as soon as there was proof that patients were harmed.”