Patients of internal medicine specialist Hayley Miller are wondering: Where’s my doctor?
Karen Connelly, St. John’s Medical Center’s chief communications officer, confirmed that Miller’s employment was terminated last week.
“Dr. Hayley Miller and St. John’s Medical Center voluntarily and mutually chose to terminate her employment this week,” Connelly wrote Thursday. She emphasized the words “voluntarily” and “mutually chose to terminate her contract” because of a confidential agreement with no liability or breach attributable to either party.
Miller said she couldn’t talk to the News&Guide or comment on the story because it’s a “personnel matter that is confidential by law.”
Miller was an internal medicine physician who practiced with St. John’s Physician Practices, St. John’s multispecialty medical group. Miller could continue to practice and see patients in town but doesn’t have her own practice as an employee of the hospital’s medical group.
Connelly said patients scheduled with Dr. Miller are being contacted to ensure a smooth transition to another doctor. Conversations need to happen, she said, to make sure patients are matched with a provider who is a “good fit for what their individual needs and preferences are.”
“We definitely want to make sure there isn’t a gap in care,” Connelly said. “I haven’t been contacted by anyone who can’t get care.”
But that hasn’t been the case for patients like Marian Ruzicka and Lou Centrella.
Ruzicka, a 70-year-old who lives in Victor, Idaho, said she has been “very happy” with Miller’s services.
“She’s been a blessing to have in this valley,” Ruzicka said.
But when she called in late September to get a medication change, a nurse called her back and said she would hear from someone else shortly.
“Then I didn’t hear anything,” Ruzicka said. “I waited a couple weeks.”
On Oct. 5 she sent an email to Miller’s office, complaining about the lack of communication. The next day, she was told Miller was no longer with St. John’s.
“Why did she resign? What’s going on?” Ruzicka asked. “Meanwhile I’ve had nothing but problems.”
Ruzicka turned to Dr. Martha Stearn but was told she is not taking new patients. Next she called Dr. Christine Turner — also not taking new patients. Finally she called Dr. Michael Menolascino and was told that she couldn’t be scheduled until mid-December.
In the meantime Ruzicka is having mixups with her medications because of incorrect paperwork.
“It’s been one thing after another,” Ruzicka said. “It’s a big calamity. I’m a diabetic with high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation. I really can’t screw around with this.”
She hopes a schedule change will allow her to see Menolascino sooner than December.
Lou Centrella, 72, was also a patient of Miller’s. He learned that she wasn’t his doctor any more when he was in “giant pain” due to complications with sciatica and called to get medication.
Sciatica is pain in the lower back or hip that radiates down the body and the back of the leg along the sciatic nerve, the result of a pinched or inflamed nerve. Those with diabetes have an increased risk of sciatica because abnormally high blood sugars can cause damage to peripheral nerves.
“I don’t really know why she’s not there,” he said. “It seems to me that she’s an exceptional doctor, and it’s hard to get good ones.”
Centrella said Miller “never rushed out of an appointment.”
“She spent more time with me than any doctor ever,” he said. “She just knows diabetes inside and out.”
Miller has Type 1 diabetes, something, she has said, that helps her empathize and understand her patients even more.
Centrella is suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the situation.
“It seems to me that medical institutions should value patients above anything else,” Centrella said. “But I guess I’m naive.”
Centrella asked what the Hippocratic Oath was about if politics were involved in patient care.
“I don’t think there’s any place for politics in medicine,” he said. “If there is, then I don’t even think I want to be associated with it. What are they even in business for?”
Centrella said his options are now to see a certified physician assistant, Calvin Schenk, or a new doctor, Tierney Lake. He said he would have to wait until the end of next month to see her.
Miller went to medical school at the University of Washington School of Medicine. She did her residency in internal medicine at the Gundersen Medical Foundation and La Crosse Lutheran Hospital, and did her fellowship in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at University of Utah. Miller obtained her certification from the American Board of Internal Medicine in August 2013.
It remains to be seen if a new doctor, one with expertise in diabetes care, will take Miller’s place.
“There are other physicians within the group that are available,” Connelly said, “and there are plans to hire additional physicians within the group but not based on this particular situation.”
Patient questions can be directed to the internal medicine department at 739-4610.