UW School of Medicine and Public Health disciplined 20 doctors for writing questionable sick notes for protesters last year, newly released records show, with three doctors getting the harshest penalty: fines of up to $4,000 and loss of leadership positions for four months.
"One of the problems is that virtually none of those involved acknowledge that they did anything wrong," wrote Dr. Norm Fost, head of a medical school investigatory committee that found the doctors seemed to be acting dishonestly, didn't provide competent care and failed to protect patient privacy.
Details of the medical school's disciplinary actions were revealed for the first time Thursday in more than 1,100 pages of records obtained by the State Journal under a public records request made last year. The Wisconsin Medical Examining Board disciplined some of the doctors in November.
The UW medical school investigated 22 doctors and found two weren't involved. The 20 punished — 11 faculty doctors and nine residents, or doctors-in-training — were ordered to attend an ethics seminar after handing out the sick notes during Capitol Square protests against Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining bill in February 2011.
Dr. Lou Sanner, who said he organized the effort, appealed his $4,001 fine, temporary loss of leadership position and disciplinary letter. A faculty appeals committee said this February that his penalties should be dropped, but Provost Paul DeLuca upheld them last month.
In addition to Sanner, Drs. Kathy Oriel and James Shropshire lost five days of pay — the equivalent of $3,800 and $3,586, respectively — along with leadership positions for four months.
Drs. Mark Beamsley and Hannah Keevil lost three days of pay, or roughly $1,100. Drs. Jennifer Edgoose, Andrea Martonffy, Laurel Mark, Beth Potter and Melissa Stiles lost 1.5 days of pay — fines ranging from $931 to $1,089. Dr. Bernard Micke was fined $500.
The residents, who received written reprimands, are: Drs. James Bigham, Meaghan Combs, Jessica Dalby, Neal Goldenberg, Ronni Hayon, Patrick McKenna, Jackie Redmer, Sridhar Srivani and Nathan Valentine.
Only Oriel responded to messages from the State Journal Thursday seeking comment. Through her attorney, she said the university found no "fraudulent conduct."
Lisa Brunette, spokeswoman for the medical school, said disciplinary hearings are pending for two additional doctors identified late last year as being involved in writing the sick notes.
The 20 doctors punished violated doctor conduct guidelines regarding honesty, integrity, modeling of professional behavior and being aware of their "external image," Dr. Robert Golden, medical school dean, wrote in their disciplinary letters.
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In the future, "you are expected to adhere to the appropriate standards," Golden wrote.
The records include emails and letters from the public criticizing the doctors but also some defending and praising them.
Sanner, medical director of the UW Health Northeast Family Medical Center, said he and other family practice doctors noticed a "high level of stress" among their patients during the protests, according to a summary of his appeal hearing in November.
"He proposed that a group of doctors, calling themselves 'Badger Doctors,' make themselves available at the site of protests in Madison to counsel the workers and give them work notes if the doctors believed that the individuals were worthy of the same," the summary says.
More than 30 doctors showed up — not all of them have been publicly identified — some with clothing identifying themselves as UW doctors. Sanner said he provided 18 sick notes, telling recipients to contact their own doctors for follow-up.
Fost told the appeals committee that the encounters "were below the accepted standards of care" and lacked a medical history, physical exam and laboratory data in an appropriate medical record.
In November, the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board reprimanded seven doctors and made them pay for four hours of continuing education in medical record keeping. They are: Beamsley, Keevil, Oriel, Micke, Shropshire and Sanner, and Dr. Adam Balin of Dean Clinic.
Dean "has addressed the actions internally," spokeswoman Melissa Wollering said. She wouldn't provide details Thursday about any punishment against Balin.
The medical board gave non-disciplinary administrative warnings to residents Hayon and McKenna.
The medical board is now investigating 11 other doctors named in documents from the Madison School District that were analyzed by the State Journal and other media in December. They are Bigham, Combs, Dalby, Edgoose, Mark, Redmer, Sridhar and Stiles, along with Drs. Susan Carson, Dipesh Navsaria and Richard Schmelzer.
— State Journal reporter Dan Simmons contributed to this report.