Let me start by saying that I did not know where the notebooks were, or even that they were missing, until the lawsuit was filed. If Judy did this, she didn’t tell me. I knew how concerned she was about them and I can tell you as Judy’s friend, she believed that, as the PI (principle investigator), she had a right to them. She had no legal representation until the law suit and the legal issues are very complex. There are issues with not just who owns, but who can even see the notebooks. She said to me that the notebooks documented mistakes that others wouldn’t want brought to light, something she had only realized recently. In our communications, her concern was always for the research and fulfilling her promises to patients. There didn’t seem to be anything she wanted or needed to hide for herself. She was mostly concerned about the specimens, in the months leading up to this. She feared that they could be tampered with. Freezing and thawing destroys them. Her specimens were like her babies. So whatever she did, it was in that context. She and Max are very close, so he must have been very frightened to have signed that statement. Was he offered immunity or a reduced sentence? Did he have a lawyer? Max was missing for two days before Judy was arrested (and not listed on the Washoe County arrest list). My last text to Judy, around when she was being arrested was about Max, “Is it time to call the police?”.
I still think what I thought. The Whittemore’s have destroyed a very talented scientist, through the most incompetent management imaginable. And now Max. From my vantage point, the whole thing seems to have spiraled out of control after Dr. Lipkin’s visit. My guess is that the patents and saving VIP Dx/Univex are at the bottom of it all. As Annette likes to say, “Follow the money”. Or in this case, the lack thereof. As Harvey allowed me to say in the blog about VIP Dx, he doesn’t have more money to pour into this, since the real estate market went south. Now I imagine they feel entitled to recoup their investment. VIP Dx brought them down. It all began with good intentions, but they have lost their way, in my opinion.Here is the first email I ever wrote to the WPI, dated 10/28/09, after learning that commercial testing was being offered, before I met Judy in Jan 2010:
I am trying hard to think of WPI as a resource full of people who want to help, when nobody else has. But it has come to my attention that the lab that is doing the testing has a financial tie to a member of your board of directors. I am broke. I think four members of my immediate family will test positive for this or another similar virus. I pretty much know that anyway, without the test, but it might make a difference to my disabled daughter to be able to walk into a doctor’s office and say, “I have Virus X”. And I can’t even give her that, at the moment, because her acute medical problems have to take precedence.
I know a conflict of interest when I smell one. Shame on you.
Jamie Deckoff-Jones, MD
Their PR person answered that Annette Whittemore would contact me directly, but she never did. And there you have it. It never changed. She is non-responsive. Doesn’t answer email or phone calls. I’m sure lots of you out there can verify that statement. Her voicemail is often full. She disappears for long periods. Can’t make a decision to save her life. And when she finally does, it was generally the wrong one, in my opinion. I never signed a contract; she spun her wheels about it for months, but never managed to actually give me one. Even so, I wrote nothing after I was fired, except that I’d gotten a “pink slip”, until Judy was fired. Though I knew how terribly flawed it all was, my opinion at that time was that it was better for the patient community for them to exist. But without Judy, it is just a black hole.
With the implosion of the research, I no longer felt there was a reason to try to protect them. When they knew that they didn’t have a reproducible assay, the sale of the XMRV test became fraud, in my opinion, and I advised Judy in the strongest terms that she should quit, since she apparently couldn’t make them do the right thing. In response to my direct question, she told me that she demanded they stop testing on August 1 or earlier. I cautioned her that she might be an accessory to a crime if she remained silent. I advised her to give a press conference on more than one occasion. I didn’t blog before the fund raiser because Judy asked me not to; she was still trying to figure out how she could save it at that point. She was desperate to keep her lab, to fulfill her promises to patients. I wasn’t there, so I let it be her decision. For that, I owe the patient community an apology. I knew that the program was without substance and kept it to myself for several months.
I’m not sure exactly what went wrong with the BWG, but part of it was an attempt to validate their commercial assay at the same time. So again, they shot themselves in the foot over the commercial lab. When Lipkin came to dinner, Annette told him she had 19 people on the payroll. Judy had Max and Cassie, both without graduate degrees. And then just Max. Annette has a personal assistant.
Many have asked me what happened with me at the WPI. Here it is, and then I hope I am done writing about the WPI. I have good things to report from my practice, which is what I should be writing about. I can’t tell you all how badly I would like to be done with this. My goal in writing this blog was to be of assistance, not be an energy suck, which is what this whole sordid affair has become.
I became involved with the WPI, because patients corresponding with Judy were sending me her answers to medical questions. I told her that answering those kinds of questions was a reflex for me, and since she was really bad at it, she should let me do it. She thought it was a great idea, but that I needed to have an official relationship with the institute. So I became ?; don’t even remember the title, but it was an official, volunteer position that enabled me to respond to patient information questions.
Without reviewing our email for dates, in late 2010, since the clinic seemed dead in the water, I presented Annette with a model for structuring it, fashioned after emergency medicine groups, generally a contract held by the physician group. It’s set up that way to protect the institution from medical liability. Annette loved the idea and asked me to make it so. An LLC was formed and we hired a physician recruiting company who started to send candidates. I wanted to set it up as a primary care clinic with specialty back-up. I was looking for competent doctors, not specifically CFS specialists. It is one very homogeneous disease after all (I can hear the gasps from here:). Annette expressed her relief to have me, saying that she knew she couldn’t evaluate doctors. She acknowledged that she knew nothing about running a medical practice.
On 3/23/11, already in conflict, I sent this to Annette in an email:
A good administrator:
1. Knows what she doesn’t know.
2. Knows how to delegate.
3. Protects the talent.
She said I was mean. I said I’m the best friend you have. You are paying me to be a consultant and I’m telling you what I think.
I provided a rough spreadsheet, with some numbers provided by the WPI accountant, that showed roughly a million dollars a year in profit with 10 doctors, which would be donated back to the institute for research. The budget asked for $100,000 up front, to be quickly repaid, which included my salary prior to opening. I even said that it was possible to get it open with no money, if I paid the doc’s a percentage of gross, the way we did in the ER. I thought the distribution of expenses at the WPI seemed not in favor of producing any meaningful science, so I do admit to wanting to have a say in how the money was used. I expressed this to Judy, but not to Annette, though she probably sensed it. There was no evidence of a presence of a board of directors that I could detect at all when I was there.
I went to Reno to interview doctors in early spring. Two weren’t right, but Chitra Bhakta was perfect. However, 15 minutes before Chitra arrived, Annette informed me that she had seen new lawyers in Las Vegas and had decided to employ the doctors rather than structure it as a separate corporation. I told her that I thought it a serious mistake for her to employ or try to manage doctors directly. Managing doctors is like herding cats, having done it before. Before my first crash, I was a 20% owner of an emergency medicine contract group and medical billing company in San Jose, CA. My 4 partners and I had 3 contracts and were responsible for 150,000 patient visits per year. I was vice president of human resources. I was responsible for recruiting, hiring, firing, knee-capping. We had 50 doctors and 20 PA’s. I was, in fact, the right man for the job at the WPI. Though sick, I was willing to go down for it. I figured I could last at least long enough to get it up and running, find an onsite director. Getting fired saved me from myself, but I wanted to offer treatment to those 2000 people on the interest list. I wanted to develop a large database, so we could look at treatments in a systematic way. And Judy and I were planning the first clinical trial of tenofovir.
So Annette decided to employ the doctors, including me. I said, it’s your baby, structure it however you like, but let me get to work. My attitude was that I owed her a debt of gratitude that could not be repaid and I would do what she needed me to. We agreed that Chitra should be the first hire. I told Chitra she was hired and that Annette would be in touch with a contract. Well, six weeks passed and no phone call to Chitra, no contract, nothing.
I was planning another recruiting trip. I had at least two interesting doctor candidates, as well as a nurse. I also had a couple of practice manager possibilities. Quite a few of the interested candidates for staff positions were a little sick, which Annette wasn’t happy with, but as it was with me, that’s what there was, except for training newbie primary care doctors. No famous CFS doctors were stepping up to the plate, except for Dr. Enlander who called me and offered to fly to Reno on a regular basis to teach. The other thing we locked horns about a bit was that my approach is non-invasive with respect to treatment choices. I have a strong bias against treatments that can kill, as well as unnecessary invasive procedures when there is plenty of necessary tissue harvesting happening in patients that would be happy to help. But it was always clear that I would not be determining protocol for other doctors. That was never the idea. I was actually thinking that with different doctors doing their own thing, the database would help us sort it out.
Shortly before that trip, Annette pulled the plug all together, deciding that there would be no clinic. Rather doctors would lease space and have their own practices. When I went to Reno for the Lipkin visit, I spoke to Dr. Fredericks and asked him if he would consider using Practice Fusion, free EMR, for the patients that he saw from the WPI wait list. I was still hoping to create the database somehow.
I also asked and received permission for Chitra to see patients under the same deal as Dr. Fredericks. After discussion with Chitra, Annette agreed, then, never got back to her, again. From what I could unravel after the fact, the WPI lawyer somehow decided there was something wrong with her credentials that would prevent her from getting a NV license. Chitra did her internship in NV and then her residency in California. Her NV license needed to be reactivated, but there shouldn’t have been a problem with it. Precisely the kind of thing they needed an administrator for, but they fired me, so there was nobody bird dogging it that had a clue about the sytem. In the meantime, Chitra’s father died and she had to go to India. By the time she got back, the WPI had decided that there was some problem with her. It seems they have even damaged her reputation with this nonsense. In the midst of all this, I was fired, “because we don’t need a clinical director”, but asked to still volunteer, to write for their website or something. I think it happened because Annette is a control freak and couldn’t stand the thought of not calling the shots for the clinic. She did pretty much the same thing with the research, as far as I can tell.The Whittemore’s went public saying that Andrea takes a pill that makes her well enough to work and exercise, but wouldn’t say what it is. So patients, sending in their $10/month from their social security checks can’t even know, let alone hope to access what Andrea has. I expressed my opinion on multiple occasions that this was wrong and an exceedingly poor decision on many levels. It would have been fine to say nothing, but to use it to bolster the reputation of the institute, without disclosing what that treatment is was disgusting. And then Annette lying on the news about all the miracles happening. Using another patient similarly. We got her out of a wheel chair, but won’t disclose her treatment… Fairy dust. My loyalty is to the patient community and I am feeling guilt about saying too little, not too much. People have a right to medical privacy and certainly saying nothing was an option. Many, many people have asked me, but it is not my place to disclose anyone else’s treatment. I never have and I never will. However, as I said to the Whittemore’s, being a public figure has it’s responsibilities and this went down with typical ineptitude.
I am not going to guess what happened with respect to the notebooks before speaking to Judy. The black and white thinking displayed here and on FaceBook is telling. Even poor Lilly Meehan, the sweetest woman on earth, is collateral damage. If Judy isn’t a saint, then Annette must again be one, and Judy now has to be the sinner. All black and white. The reality is all shades of gray, imperfect people in an imperfect world. Epic fail. And that includes me, since I was briefly on the payroll. No matter what just happened with the latest chapter of this disaster, it was very unfortunate that Judy was hogtied by incompetence the entire time. Annette should have stuck to her fund raising activities. But she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. It was like Keystone Kops. Amateurs. And who are the biggest losers? As usual, it’s the patients.