Oncologist Forced Out by Dr. Jeffrey Weisz Conveyed Compassion, Confidence
A medical oncologist who left Kaiser under duress is being called a compassionate caregiver by a former patient diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. At the time, Sharetta Butcher was unaware of the problems faced by Dr. Jennifer Lycette. .
Since then she learned that Lycette, along with Dr. Radhika Breaden, has filed a lawsuit against Kaiser accusing its executive medical director, Dr. Jeffrey Weisz, of gender discrimination, wrongful discharge and whistleblower retaliation.
Here’s what Butcher shared with us – her comments are being published verbatim -- as she requested.
“I was reading The Lund Report 10/9/2015 and noticed the article about Dr. Lycette. It was in January 2015 that I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, because I worked in a doctor’s office (not a Kaiser office) I quickly began to ask around for the best oncologist to take my case.
“Dr. Lycette’s name came up several times. I demanded she be my oncologist. I am glad I did. I know that God is the ultimate healer, but I thanked Him for giving the gifts, talents, bedside manner and wisdom that I received from Dr. Lycette.
“So it was in deep sadness I went when she told me she was no longer going to be at Kaiser. She stated she had a treatment plan in place and she wanted me to stay with it. ‘Do not do anything else.’ I trusted her. So I stuck to the plan. On October 21, 2015 I will have been cancer free for two years.
“One thing I loved about Dr. Lycette was she spoke with compassion and confidence during this difficult time in my life. I hated to see her go. I was transferred to a doctor that was supposed to be “comparable” to Dr. Lycette. NO WAY!!!
“There are a list of reasons why there was no comparison, but the one that stands out the most is she had a way of having you present in your care. She always asked what questions do I have and she never came across as she knew me better then I knew myself. Some of the other doctors I came across the last half of my treatment did not display that type of ‘bed side manner.’"
Several weeks ago, Kaiser lost the first round of these multi-million dollar lawsuits following a ruling by Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Youlee Yim You.
‘These are great victories for patients in Oregon and for women in Oregon,” San Francisco-Based attorney Ted Mathews told The Lund Report. “This case is going to give these two fine doctors the opportunity to provide they were victims of retaliation for patient advocacy and victims of systematic discrimination against women.”
In her ruling, the judge said the term emotional has been historically used to castigate women, which, “is akin to saying she is hysterical,” adding, “This remark combined with the elimination of part-time positions held only by women constitute sufficient facts to support a hostile work environment theory.”
Breaden contended that Weisz shouted at her, humiliating her in front of her peers, taking away vacation time, attempting to deny her corneal transplant and excluding her from department activities.
For her part, Lycette had reported concerns about understaffing and was told by the chief of medical oncology that she was being emotional and her part-time position was being eliminated. This occurred after she had been highly praised for doing well at her job, had a high patient load, was highly productive, had high patient satisfaction cores and never received discipline, according to her lawsuit.
Both cases now proceed to the discovery phase, Mathews said.
When reached for comment, Michael Foley, Kaiser’s communication manager, said “We are not going to comment on the court process.
Allegations Against Weisz
The Lund Report reported earlier that Weisz “found ways to minimize payrolls by shrinking staff while patient loads skyrocketed, often leaving the remaining staff members trying to cope with impossible patient care demands, which ultimately harmed Kaiser’s patients,” according to both physicians.
Breaden joined Kaiser as an internist in 2000, and started focusing on sleep medicine in 2007.
Her lawsuit alleges that Weisz’ decision to maximize profits by decreasing outside referrals created a zero-tolerance policy for patients needing to be seen by physicians outside the Kaiser setting, and that decision jeopardized the lives of many patients.
“Before Dr. Weisz’ arrival, Kaiser had a culture of open dialogue and putting patient care first,” her lawsuit alleges. “The primary goal of all discussions was preservation and improvement of the quality of patient care.”
Breaden found it difficult to help her patients find adequate treatment at sleep medicine clinics because they were restricted to the Kaiser facility and often had to drive long distances after being evaluated and treated were in danger of getting in sleep-related vehicle accidents.
Sharing her concerns led to Breaden being “retaliated against, humiliated and ostracized for interfering with Kaiser’s attempts to make as much money as possible at the expense of patient care,” her lawsuit alleges, yet Breasen refused to remain silent.
Kaiser’s reluctance to allow patients to seek treatment at outside clinics led, she says, to at least one motor vehicle accident where a sleep medicine patient fell asleep while driving home to Salem from Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center, resulting in severe injuries.
Breaden’s suit claims she was retaliated against after encouraging another physician, Dr. Alistair Scriven, to appeal a decision after Kaiser denied a request to allow his patient to seek outside care for a sleep disorder.
In response, Dr. Praseeda Sridharan, chief of Kaiser’s sleep medicine department, sent Breaden an email in January 2012, urging her not to blame Weisz for that decision, saying “We as an organization have been irresponsible in loosing [sic] dollars at outside cost and providing poor care at outside facility and bleeding large amount of $$ to physicians who are trying to milk out of Kaiser …. We also are great at reimbursement and hence made several folks like Dr. Gaber [sic] millionaires.”
As a Kaiser member, Breaden was also denied a corneal transplant procedure by a local ophthalmologist outside the Kaiser system that had been approved prior to Weisz joining the medical group. Later, her appeal was successful.
Breaden insists she was repeatedly humiliated, forced to provide substandard care and was put in a position where she could have violated the law. In August 2012, she lost her job and is asking for $5 million in non-economic damages and $4 million in economic damages.
Profit margin paramount
The lawsuit filed by Dr. Jennifer Lycette who specializes in hematology and medical oncology, shares many of the same issues, saying Weisz was more concerned with maximizing profits.
Before joining Kaiser’s staff in 2006, Lycette’s colleagues had assured her that they had never experienced any limitations on treatment protocols and could refer patients for outside expert consultation or to clinical trials. Lycette says she needed such assurances after fearing “Kaiser would reject her patients from life-saving clinical trials or expert consultations just to increase profit,” but was told that was not the case.
After Weisz came on board, however, things changed drastically, she alleges, and he demanded that medical oncologists perform bone marrow biopsies during a patient’s initial consultation, telling Lycette she should rush through the patient on their first visit to maximize profits.
When Lycette challenged his authority, saying his demands were not feasible and were outdated, Weisz began shouting at her in angry and threatening manner which led Lycette to tell Weisz she had more knowledge than he had about the current practice of medical oncology, and had the highest patient satisfaction rating in the department at 89 percent.
Later, in February 2013, Weisz announced that all part-time positions in the department would be eliminated even if that would disproportionately affect the number of women in the department – among them Dr. Phoebe Trubowitiz and Dr. Kathleen Kemmer. Since then, Lycette claims that other outstanding female physicians have resigned rather than be forced to endure further humiliation and pain or be fired – including Kemmer, Trubowitz,and Drs. Tarun Bains and Michele Chernesky.
Lycette, who resigned in April 2013 because of her oath to do no harm and her belief that Kaiser policies were "making patients suffer," she alleges, is asking for $5 million in noneconomic and $2 million in economic damage.
Diane can be reached at [email protected].