A Tennessee doctor has retired her medical license after it was discovered that she borrowed a hefty loan from a longtime patient, then diagnosed the woman with dementia when she asked for her money back, according to state discipline records.
But the doctor now insists she was “set up” by a vindictive patient, and said she only agreed to retire after state attorneys presented her with an unwinnable legal case.
“It was all lies and I was told that if I fought it would be extremely costly to me,” said Dr. Suellen Lee on Tuesday. “And there would still be no benefit. There was no chance of reversal.”
Lee, 79, an internal medicine specialist in Columbia, retired her license last month in a peculiar case before the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, which is responsible for disciplining doctors throughout the state. Government attorneys said Lee borrowed $300,000 from a patient when her medical clinic fell on hard times, and when the patient later requested repayment, Lee diagnosed her with dementia in an apparent effort to escape the debt.
The patient — identified in records only as E.W. — had been treated by Lee for 25 years and was also a personal friend and a co-worker. State records say that Lee sent a letter about E.W.’s diagnosis to the patient’s daughter, who in turn forwarded the letter to the patient’s financial company, which resulted in her being denied access to her assets.
When Lee was questioned by investigators, she admitted that she diagnosed E.W. purely “on observation,” without the use of any testing method or a second opinion from a mental health professional, according to state records.
A psychologist later assessed E.W., finding “no indication of dementia,” the records say.
During a phone interview with the Tennessean on Tuesday, Lee said the state of twisted the facts of her case to make it appear as if she was scheming to escape the loan. Lee said she borrowed the money from the patient approximately 20 years ago and has been dutifully repaying the debt in installments.
Lee also stood by the dementia diagnosis, which occurred about two years ago, saying E.W. exhibited erratic behavior and signs of memory loss. Lee insisted her former patient later misled the psychologist so the dementia diagnosis would not be confirmed.
“She wanted to hurt me because she was so angry with me because I had said that she was demented,” Lee said.
Although Lee now disputes some aspects of the case against her, she conceded to these facts while negotiating an agreement with the Tennessee Department of Health and the Board of Medical Examiners during a meeting last month. Lee ultimately signed a consent order, voluntarily retiring her license and agreeing to pay a $2,000 fine.
The details of Lee’s case were revealed through a monthly discipline report issued by the Tennessee Department of Health, which maintains public records on licenses for doctors, nurses, chiropractors, massage therapists, and other healthcare professionals throughout the state. More than 100 disciplinary actions were included in the latest monthly report.