A Kentucky doctor who was removed from practice for 'touching his nose' in an exam is awarded millions by a jury

By Lisa Marie Basile | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published May 26, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • John M. Farmer was working as a resident for Baptist Health Medical Group in 2019 when he was accused of being “impaired” and “touching his nose a lot” during a routine patient exam. He denies this, and his coworkers also deny this. 

  • The accusation led to his being suspended from practice and ordered to sign an agreement to abstain from alcohol or mood-altering drugs for five years, among other consequences. 

  • Farmer sued his employers, citing breach of contract and interference with future potential business. The jury ruled in his favor, and he was awarded $3,736,044. 

In 2019, a resident was accused of being “impaired” and “touching his nose,” during a routine exam with two children. The accusation led to a series of unfolding events: He was improperly notified by his employers of the accusation, ordered to abstain from alcohol or mood-altering drugs for five years, prevented from naming witnesses at work who could corroborate that he wasn’t under the influence, and prohibited from practicing medicine.

The ordeal also meant that he completed his residency later than planned and that he now has a “reportable event” permanently listed in the National Practitioner's Data Bank. 

The doctor sued his employer in January 2021, seeking compensatory damages due to breach of contract and interference with future work prospects. This year, a jury ruled in favor of the doctor and he was awarded $3,736,044. 

The full backstory: Farmer v. Baptist Health Medical Group, Inc.

Dr. John Mitchell Farmer, a 2017 graduate of the University of Kentucky School of Medicine—with a license to practice from the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure—became a family medicine resident at Baptist Health Madisonville (BHM), part of Baptist Health Medical Group (BHMG), on June 30, 2019. Farmer had a one-year term with BHM and anticipated graduating a year later, on June 30, 2020. 

A few months later, on November 4, 2019, Farmer spent the day seeing patients. Around 4:15 p.m., he saw two children—patients he’d seen before—for a routine exam. The patient’s mother and her boyfriend were in the room, along with a medical student. The appointment was deemed “uneventful,” according to court documents.

The documents state that after the appointment ended, the patient’s mother complained to Stephanie Crick, the office manager at BHM, stating that Farmer was “impaired” and “touching his nose a lot.” Farmer was not made aware of the complaint at that point. 

The mother’s complaint was forwarded to Diana Nims, MD, the residency program director, a member of BHMG, and Farmer's direct supervisor, who then spoke with the Kenneth Hargrove, MD, who had met with the patients after Dr. Farmer did. Nims asked the Hargrove if Farmer was impaired, to which the Hargrove responded, “He is not impaired, he is twitchy but that is Dr. Farmer,” according to the court documents. Nims also spoke to another MD who denied that Farmer was impaired. 

Court documents claim that Farmer “was not impaired or under the influence of any alcohol or illegal drugs on November 4, 2019, or at any other time while on duty and working at BHM.”

In addition to Nims, Hargrove, and Crick, other employees for BHM were also notified of the situation on November 4. 

According to court documents, BHM’s Fitness for Duty and Drug Testing Policy states that if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that an employee is under the influence, impairing their “judgment, coordination, skill, or alertness,” then the manager “will remove the employee from the immediate work area to a private place and inform the employee of the concerns." At that point, the documents say, the manager must "escort the employee to Employee Health or the appropriate medical office...or the Emergency Department and/or other designated location" where the employee is tested for alcohol and/or drugs.”

The documents state that the Nims “knew BHM's policies well,” yet Farmer was not notified until the next day—the morning of November 5. When asked if he was impaired the day earlier, he replied, “Absolutely not.”

More so, the Nims “did not ask or require that Farmer return to BHM for immediate testing on November 4, which would have confirmed that Farmer was not impaired at all and that the complaint about him was baseless,” the documents state.

What happened next

After the accusation, a series of consequences took place. The court documents state that on November 5, Farmer asked why he had not been informed about the complaint the previous day, to which he did not receive an answer. BHM placed Farmer on a leave of absence. 

That same day, Farmer was required to drive about three hours to the Kentucky Physicians Health Foundation (KPHF) for evaluation, which included a urine drug screen (UDS). 

At KPHF, Greg Jones, MD, medical director of KPHF, told Farmer he needed to go to an approved facility for a 96-hour evaluation and that Farmer would not be able to return to practice until this evaluation was complete. 

By November 15, Wayne Lipson, MD, the chief medical officer at BHM, sent a letter to the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure (KBML) regarding the patient complaint and the fact that Famer was sent to KPHF. At this point, KBLM got involved. At an interview with both the chief medical officer at BHM and Farmer, KBLM asked Farmer to “name potential witnesses that had worked with him on November 4, 2019,”—but he could not, as the chief medical officer at BHM, “would not permit Dr. Farmer to provide any names of witnesses…even though Dr. Farmer wanted to do so to refute the baseless complaint.”

The court documents say that had Farmer been able to name the witnesses, he would have named a handful, including physicians and nurses who had worked with him regularly. “All of the witnesses would have confirmed and/or testified that there was nothing different about Dr. Farmer's behavior and he did not demonstrate any evidence of impairment or of being under the influence,” the documents state.

On November 22, KBLM required Farmer to sign an ‘interim agreed order’ pending their investigation, which would stop Farmer from practicing medicine, “until approved to do so" by the KBML. 

The court documents state that, “the interim agreed order also constituted a reportable event about Dr. Farmer to the National Practitioner's Data Bank (NPDB), which is permanently on his record.” The NPDB, created by federal law, “requires reporting of medical malpractice payments and certain adverse actions related to health care practitioners, providers, and suppliers.”[]

Then, on December 2, Farmer had an evaluation at Metro Atlanta Recovery Residences in Atlanta, Georgia. By December 11, Farmer returned to KPHF and signed a two-year contract agreeing to abstain from alcohol or mood-altering drugs. Farmer was asked to agree to other terms as well, such as regular testing and therapy. Court documents state that this letter was extended to five years—and that Farmer’s signing it was a “condition of retaining his medical license, without which he could not complete the Residency Program or earn a living as a practicing physician.”

Farmer completed his residency at BHM on September 3, 2020, which meant he completed his residency later than planned.

Court documents state that Farmer’s contract letter, interim agreed order, and delayed residency completion date had consequences and that these issues were “red flags” to prospective employers: “Dr. Farmer's job prospects have been severely diminished and he has experienced significant difficulty obtaining suitable employment as a physician, much less a position that would pay him at a normal salary for an individual in his area of practice coming out of a Residency Program,” court documents state. 

The jury’s verdict

Farmer sued BHM and BHMG in January 2021, seeking compensatory damages due to breach of contract and tortious interference with prospective business advantage. After a jury trial from April 25, 2023, to May 2, 2023, Farmer was awarded $3,736,044—which included $236,044 for breach of contract damages (including lost wages, drug testing fees, and therapy fees, among others) and $3.5 million for humiliation, emotional distress, and mental anguish.[]

Farmer could not be reached for comment. However, according to a statement provided to MDLinx by Farmer’s lead attorney, Kathleen A. DeLaney of Indianapolis law firm DeLaney & DeLaney LLC, Farmer said, “I feel vindicated by the jury’s verdict. It has been a very difficult three and a half years for me, and it is my hope that this finally puts the matter to rest.”

In the statement, DeLaney said, “We are very pleased with the jury’s carefully considered verdict and are proud of our client for standing up in the face of injustice. The jury did what Baptist Health Madisonville and Baptist Health Medical Group should have done—recognize the unsubstantiated accusation for what it was.”

Farmer now practices family medicine in Tennessee.

Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter