A jury on May 2 awarded John M. Farmer, MD, $3.7 million for emotional distress and contract damages against Baptist Health Madisonville and Baptist Health Medical Group for a series of actions they took against Dr. Farmer after the impairment complaint.
“It’s been the worst thing that I’ve ever gone through in my entire life,” Dr. Farmer said in an interview. “My career was disrupted, because I couldn’t finish residency on time, and I had difficulty finding full-time employment comparable to what I expected to obtain immediately following residency. It continues to significantly impact my life and my job, because I remain subject to random drug testing at any time and must check in every day to see whether I have to get drug tested.”
Dr. Farmer was in his third year of residency at the hospital when the mother of two young patients accused the doctor of being “on something” during a visit with her children, said Kathleen DeLaney, an Indianapolis-based attorney who represented Dr. Farmer in the case.
According to the lawsuit, the hospital violated its fitness for duty and drug testing policy by not immediately notifying Dr. Farmer of the complaint nor immediately testing him to prove whether or not there was a factual basis for the allegation. Repercussions from the unproven complaint damaged Dr. Farmer’s personal and professional reputation. It severely limited his job prospects and earning potential, the suit alleged.
Baptist Health spokeswoman Rebecca Towles Brown said Baptist Health is exploring its legal options after the jury’s decision. “We strongly disagree with the allegations made against Baptist Health in this case and are disappointed in the jury’s verdict. Baptist Health followed its medical staff policies and appropriately responded to concerns raised about Dr. Farmer’s well-being and behavior on the date in question. We are evaluating our postverdict options, as we believe the facts as they occurred do not support the verdict. Our primary focus remains providing high-quality care to our patients and families.”
What sparked the complaint?
On Nov. 4, 2019, Dr. Farmer worked a full day in the clinic at Baptist Health, visiting and treating patients and interacting with colleagues, according to court documents. In the late afternoon, he conducted a routine appointment with two children while their mother, her boyfriend, and a medical student were present.
Following the afternoon appointment, the mother issued a complaint to an office manager that Dr. Farmer was impaired, noting that he was “touching his nose a lot,” according to the lawsuit.
The next morning, hospital administrators met with Dr. Farmer and asked whether he was impaired the day before, to which he replied, “Absolutely not,” court documents state. Dr. Farmer asked to be given a urine drug screen immediately, but administrators allegedly said he needed to be tested at the Kentucky Physicians Health Foundation in Louisville.
Dr. Farmer immediately made the 3-hour drive to the facility, and Baptist Health placed him on leave, pending the evaluation. The health foundation sent Dr. Farmer to a third-party vendor to complete a urine drug screen, which returned a result of “dilute.” (A “dilute” result occurs when the urine concentration is weak because of too much water in the urine and testers are unable to detect whether alcohol or drugs are present.)
He was then instructed to go to a separate alcohol treatment facility for a 96-hour evaluation, where he was ultimately diagnosed with mild alcohol use disorder, according to Ms. DeLaney. The facility did not recommend that he receive any inpatient care.
Hospital administrators later sent a letter to the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure alerting them of the patient’s complaint. The board opened an investigation, and Farmer was required to sign an interim order in which he agreed not to practice medicine until approved by the board, according to court documents. The order was reported to the National Practitioner’s Data Bank.
To maintain his employment and complete his residency, Dr. Farmer was ultimately required to sign a 2-year agreement with Kentucky Physicians Health Foundation, which included regular testing, monitoring, and therapy. The board later extended the agreement to 5 years and made Dr. Farmer’s compliance a condition of retaining his medical license, according to legal records.
Dr. Farmer sued Baptist Health Medical Group and Baptist Heath Madisonville in 2021, alleging breach of contract and tortious interference with prospective business advantage.
At trial, coworkers, including Farmer’s attending physicians, testified that Dr. Farmer was not impaired on the date in question, Ms. DeLaney said. A key fact highlighted at trial is that Dr. Farmer has ADHD.
“My client has ADHD, so he’s normally a twitchy person,” she said. “There was lots of testimony about how he moves a lot and that he’s fidgety and doesn’t stand still. The two attending doctors that were supervising him at clinic that afternoon both said 100% he was not impaired; he was his usual self. They told the residency director that right after the incident. They both testified at trial they thought that would be the end of the matter.”
Baptist Health would not comment about whether it followed its fitness for duty and drug testing policy or whether leaders spoke with other medical professionals who worked with Dr. Farmer on the day of the complaint.
Dr. Farmer said he feels vindicated by the verdict and grateful to the jury.
“I intend to continue practicing as a family medicine doctor and hope to continue to grow and advance in my career,” he said.