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Green v. Singing River Health System

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

November 5, 2019

DEBRA GREEN APPELLANT
v.
SINGING RIVER HEALTH SYSTEM APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/16/2019

          JACKSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JAMES D. BELL TRIAL JUDGE:

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: WALTER C. MORRISON IV TIM C. HOLLEMAN

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: BRETT K. WILLIAMS A. KELLY SESSOMS III JAMES EVERETT LAMBERT III JASON R. SCHEIDERER

          BEFORE J. WILSON, P.J., WESTBROOKS AND McDONALD, JJ.

          McDONALD, J.

         ¶1. In November 2016, Singing River Hospital (Singing River) sent letters to patients who were treated for multiple sclerosis by its employee, Dr. Terry Millette (Millette). The letter said that there had been questions about Millette's patient care and that re-evaluations of his patients were needed. After Debra Green (Green) was reevaluated in May 2017 and learned she did not have multiple sclerosis, she sent a notice of claim to the hospital in January 2018. On May 29, 2018, she filed a medical negligence suit against the hospital seeking damages. Singing River, a Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA)[1] entity, filed a motion to dismiss the action, which the circuit court granted. It held that Green failed to file suit within the statutorily prescribed time limit, calculating the one-year limitation period to have begun running on the November 16, 2016, the date of Singing River's letter to Millette's patients. Green appeals and after consideration of the law and the parties' arguments, we reverse the court's judgment and remand.

         Facts

         ¶2. Green had been Millette's patient for many years, both when he was in private practice and after he became an employee of Singing River in 2011. Over the years, she was diagnosed with spasmodic torticollis, a neurological disorder, for which she received Botox treatments. In August 2015 she reported to the nurse practitioner in Millette's clinic at Singing River that she was falling frequently, that her gait had become more unsteady, and that her memory was not as sharp as it had been. An MRI was scheduled. After the MRI, Green saw another nurse practitioner in the clinic who documented symptoms of memory loss, unsteady gait, and blurred vision. Her MRI revealed multiple white-matter lesions in both hemispheres of her brain. This finding resulted in a diagnosis of probable multiple sclerosis, and medication to treat it was prescribed. She began having daily injections of Copaxone in addition to her other medication. She saw Millette in November 2015 when he determined that she had possible demyelinating syndrome (a disease damaging the protective covering of the nerve fibers, which includes multiple sclerosis). Thereafter, Millette continued prescribing medications consistent with her multiple sclerosis diagnosis.

         ¶3. Unbeknownst to Green, three doctors communicated to hospital officials their concerns about Millete's pattern of diagnosis and/or treatment that they felt may be inappropriate. In a memo dated May 10, 2016, these doctors acknowledged that medicine is not an exact science and that approaches to diagnosis and treatment may differ among doctors. However, they said their concern "goes beyond diagnostic error or uncertainty that we feel would be expected. . . ." They attached a sampling of medical records for the hospital to review, and reiterated that "this communication does not serve to accuse any individual of wrongdoing." They did not ask that any action be taken against Millette. It is unclear what specific actions Singing River took in response to this memo, but ultimately it did result in Millette's separation from the hospital and a letter being sent to his patients, including Green.

         ¶4. The November 16, 2016 letter reads in pertinent parts:

As a valued patient of Singing River Health System, your health and well-being-and that of all our patients-are our highest priority. As such, we want to share with you that Dr. Terry Millette will no longer be practicing at the Neurology Associates Clinic at Singing River Medical Park effective immediately.
. . . [W]e want to share with you the circumstances surrounding Dr. Millette's departure and our plan for moving forward with our patients.
Consistent with best medical practice, Singing River has internal processes to review the quality of care that our patients receive. Recently some questions were raised about how Dr. Millette diagnoses and treats patients with multiple sclerosis. As a result, we immediately began a review of Dr. Millette's medical activity. During the course of this ongoing review, the decision was made that Dr. Millette would no longer base his practice at Singing River.
We recognize that competent medical professionals often have differing opinions, especially when it involves complex neurological conditions. Given the questions that have been raised about Dr. Millette's medical practices, we would like to work with you to obtain a re-evaluation of your diagnosis and treatment plan with another doctor.
As a next step, we ask you or your caregiver to call us at (228) 809-2000. You will be able to reach a dedicated team of Singing River employees at that number seven ...

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