They say that money is the root of all evil and based on some pretty concrete historical evidence, it’s hard to argue against that particular idiom. Money can be as much of a blessing as it is a curse, whether you have too much or too little.
In the same way, money can also drive a wedge between people, even those who have been friends for years. The minute you involve money in your friendship, things become even more complicated, and people do weird, sometimes sinister things when it comes to money.
Before The Board
Suellen Lee worked as an internal medicine specialist in Columbia, Tennessee, since the day she graduated medical school. At 79 years old, that’s a pretty long time to be in the business. Recently, however, the septuagenarian specialist has been brought up before the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners.
The health professionals at tn.gov/health comprise the governing body responsible for disciplining doctors throughout the state of Tennessee. As such, they are often called in to deal with difficult or peculiar cases involving the behavior or practices of doctors. Suellen Lee’s case is most definitely one of these peculiar cases.
If you asked Suellen about the current case against her, she’d tell you that she was being “set up” by a vindictive patient. Nevertheless, recent pressure from the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, coupled with an unwinnable legal case, has essentially forced her the former doctor into retirement.
Suellen’s retirement also comes with the added bonus of forfeiting her medical license. Of course, though she acquiesced to the board’s offer of early retirement, she recognized that fighting the tide would be useless and costly. Even still, she attests that all the accusations levied against her, horrible as they may sound, are outright lies.
Suellen’s trouble began a few years ago when she found herself at the end of her rope. Her medical clinic had fallen on hard times and Suellen’s only option was to ask one of her patients, a friend, for the $300,000 she needed to bring her out of debt. It was a decision she wasn’t sure she could make, but it was her only choice.
Miraculously, her wealthy patient and friend were more than happy to lend her the substantial sum. She even arranged so that Suellen could pay it back over time instead of in one impossible lump sum. The arrangement worked for a while, with Suellen dutifully making repayment over the course of the next 20 years.
Friend And Patient
The patient, friend, and co-worker that initially lent Suellen the money has been referred to as E.W. for purposes of anonymity. E.W. and Suellen had been friends and, in the scope of $300,000, business partners for over 25 years. They even managed to remain friends over the course of the repayment, and Suellen remained her physician.
When Loans Fail
The repayment plan worked for nearly two decades, until one day, it didn’t. E.W.’s most recent request for payment of the considerable loan was met with animosity and negativity. For some reason, whether because she didn’t have the money or because she simply didn’t want to pay any longer, Suellen decided to put an end to their arrangement.
However, Suellen’s plan for getting out of the still-substantial debt was to use her clout as a licensed doctor to officially diagnose E.W. with dementia. That’s right, in order to weasel out of a very old, generous, life-salvaging debt, Suellen Lee diagnosed her friend with a mental illness that would render unable to control the course of her own life.
Suellen then allegedly sent a letter about E.W.’s diagnosis to the patient’s daughter. The daughter, unsure what else to do, forwarded the letter to E.W.’s financial company as a precaution, who then denied E.W. any access to her assets. The whole situation soon spiraled out of control.
Call The Cavalry
E.W. vehemently denied that she had any sort of dementia and accused Suellen of fabricating the diagnosis to get out of the debt. Eventually, the case made its way to the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, who sent their own experts in to double check on the diagnosis and ensure that no abuse of power was taking place.
An approved psychologist assessed E.W. and eventually found that there was no indication of dementia. The board concluded therefore that either Suellen was incompetent and really thought her friend to be mentally infirm, or that she made up the diagnosis on purpose. Either scenario required that she come in and offer an explanation.
Suellen was brought before investigators and almost immediately admitted that she had diagnosed E.W. purely on “observation.” That is to say, she used no official testing method for dementia. She also didn’t bother to get a second opinion from a mental health professional, which she herself is not.
Stick to Her Guns
That said, Suellen’s admission did not preclude her from standing by her initial dementia diagnosis. As far as she was concerned, E.W. exhibited erratic behavior and clear signs of memory loss. She appeared to get violent when she got angry and was therefore dangerous to others as well as herself.
Suellen recently spoke to the Tennessean about the whole thing in a telephone interview. She expressed that the facts of the case have become twisted so much that it now appears the diagnosis was all part of a scheme to get out from under the loan.
Easy to See
It’s not hard to see why people would believe E.W. over Suellen. Looking at the facts, we see that Suellen is an aging doctor with a substantial debt still under her belt. If she retires, she’s still on the hook for the debt. Yet, if she retires and E.W. is unable to keep track of finances, then the debt becomes unofficially “forgiven.”
In the end, Suellen signed the consent order, thereby voluntarily retiring her license and agreeing to pay a fine of $2,000. Her friendship with E.W. has understandably ended and her name and lifetime of good work are forever marred with the lingering rumor that she abused her power. Even if it isn’t true, it certainly doesn’t help her reputation.
There have been several recent cases like this. Cases involving doctors who have abused their power to the detriment of their patients. These other cases are of course a fair bit worse, mind you, but all of them involve a financial gain in some way. Take the Texas doctor who falsely diagnosed patients and accumulated $50 million in fraudulent medical claims because of it.
The doctor in question is Jorge Zamora-Quezada, and the massive scheme he orchestrated jeopardized the wellbeing of not only regular patients but the elderly, infirm, disabled, and even children. He violated his Hippocratic oath to do no harm by administering unnecessary chemo and other toxic medications to these patients.
Abuse of Power
Now, what Zamora-Quezada did is definitely more sinister than Suellen Lee, but its most definitely in the same wheelhouse. Abuse of power is not something to take lightly and it is especially reprehensible when it comes to wielding that power over a patient, not to mention a former friend.