MacIver News Service | February 22, 2011
[Madison, Wisconsin] The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and the University of Wisconsin Medical Foundation have launched an investigation of the reported behavior of several doctors that work for UW Health.
The two institutions, among those whose faculty comprise UW Health staff, announced on Monday it will investigate its doctors caught on tape by the MacIver News Service handing out sick notes to protesters in Madison without the benefit of a serious medical examination.
“The investigation will identify which UW Health physicians were involved and whether their behavior constituted violations of medical ethics or University of Wisconsin and UW Health policies and work rules,” UW Health said in a press statement. “The investigation and any potential future action will follow the established procedures of the University of Wisconsin. Any future disciplinary action taken will be considered a personnel matter and in accord with University of Wisconsin policies, and will not be open to public discussion.”
UW Health represents the academic health care entities of the University of Wisconsin-Madison: UW Medical Foundation, UW Hospital and Clinics, UW School of Medicine and Public Health, American Family Children’s Hospital and UW Carbone Comprehensive Cancer Center.
On Saturday, MacIver News broke the story of a group of men and women in lab coats purporting to be doctors were handing out medical excuse notes, without examining the ‘patients.’ Since the story broke, several doctors, including some affiliated with UW Health, have admitted in the press that they participated in the scheme.
“I asked if they were handing out doctors’ excuses and a guy said yes and asked me if I needed one,” one woman told MNS Saturday. “When I told them I needed one for February 16 and 17th, he wondered if I wanted to come back here for the protests next week.”
What happened next, shocked her.
“I said, ‘sure,’ and I received a doctor’s note for the 16th through the 25th of February, without a medical exam.”
Any government employees who hand in the sick notes could also face disciplinary action, especially those who work at Milwaukee’s Public Schools.
Many protesters had called in sick at work throughout the week, and were concerned they might face disciplinary action. The Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent announced on Wednesday any teacher calling in sick would need to produce a doctor’s note or be punished.
“We are aware of the reports of one or more doctors writing excuses for teachers who called in sick to attend protests,” Roseann St.Aubin, MPS Spokeswoman told MNS. “All excuses presented by employees to their supervisors are to be forwarded to Central Office (HR) where they will be reviewed carefully. This action will allow HR to determine best course of action and to also be consistent in decision-making. Meantime those who called in sick or who simply did not show up are still coded as AWOL for the time being.”
On Saturday, at the corner of North Pickney Street and East Mifflin Street in Madison, signs read “I’m a Dr. Need a note?”
One doctor stood on the sidewalk yelling into the crowd, “If you need a doctor’s note for work, there are doctors on the corner signing notes.”
Kelly Zillmer of Marion, Wisconsin, was attending the Tea Party rally Saturday when she noticed the doctors, and decided to investigate.
“I was not examined nor was there any discussion of my health. I asked if I could have an excuse and was allowed to fill it out myself except, of course, for the signature. I was also coached as to my civil rights that I do not have to explain anything to my employer – only that I have a Dr.’s excuse to miss work. The ‘Doctors’ were soliciting people to give out the excuses,” Zillmer told the MacIver News Service.
Since then Zillmer has filed a letter with UW Hospitals and Clinics suggesting the doctors be harshly disciplined.
“My personal opinion is that this constitutes an abuse of public trust. One public sector employee helping another public sector employee cheat the taxpayer. How should I feel? I now have a first hand experience that casts serious doubt on the integrity of my clinic and my school,” Zillmer said.
Senator Pam Galloway (R-Wausau) was outraged when she found out about the doctors “passing out medical excuses like leaflets.”
“Make no mistake these medical excuses are as flimsy as the paper they were written on. As a physician, I took an oath to uphold professional standards. To hand out an excuse without properly evaluating a patient is both unethical and fraudulent,” Galloway said. “I am confident that reports of this will trigger a review of the medical licenses of those found to be responsible for engaging in this behavior.”
In fact, according to the American Medical Association’s code of ethics, Galloway is obligated to address this controversy.
The code states “A physician shall uphold the standards of professionalism, be honest in all professional interactions, and strive to report physicians deficient in character or competence, or engaging in fraud or deception, to appropriate entities.”
Galloway said she intends to do just that.
“I will be looking into this situation and urge the State Medical Examining Board to conduct a full investigation,” Galloway said. “For those employers requiring a medical excuse to avoid taking disciplinary actions for unexcused absences, I would urge them to closely examine the validity of these notes.”
Employers, however, may be reluctant to investigate the doctor’s excuses. The street corner doctors advised “patients” in a handout.
“Your employer is only entitled to know that you were evaluated by a physician and that a recommendation was made for absence from work,” the handout reads. “Your employer is not entitled to know the details of your short-term medical condition nor the extent of the medical services provided.”
If the teachers are successful in having their absences considered ‘excused,’ taxpayers in Wisconsin could be on the hook for more than $9,000,000 in wages and benefits paid out to teachers who were not in the classroom since last week, the MacIver News Service reported Monday.
The MacIver News Service has attempted to contact the “Badger Doctors” through their email address, but have not yet received a reply.