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Prison doctor resigns after lawsuit with amputee is settled

Two weeks after Georgia agreed to pay $550,000 to a diabetic inmate who lost his leg, the prison doctor responsible for his treatment has informed her supervisor that she will resign.

Dr. Chiquita Fye will leave her position as medical director at Macon State Prison by the end of the month, according to an Oct. 1 letter she wrote to Dr. Billy Nichols, the medical director for Georgia Correctional HealthCare.

Fye’s letter gave no reason for her resignation, but it follows the state’s decision in September to settle the lawsuit filed by convicted murderer Michael Tarver alleging that his amputation was due to the doctor’s neglect. The settlement was reached a week before the case, in which Fye was the lone defendant, was scheduled for trial in federal court in Macon.

Fye’s decision also follows an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story that cited depositions and interviews in which six former healthcare workers at the prison contended that the Emory-trained physician at times withheld critical care because of her disdain for criminals.

Fye remains a defendant in another federal lawsuit that could go to trial later this year. It alleges that she failed to properly monitor a man who was abruptly cut off from his daily dose of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax. The man, William Stoner, suffered a seizure and had to be air-lifted to a hospital for treatment.

Fye did not respond to a message from the AJC seeking comment for this story.

Tarver, who is serving a sentence of life without parole for the 1994 murder of a Columbus convenience store clerk, learned of Fye’s resignation Wednesday and was pleased, his attorney, Mike Brown said.

“He felt like that was justice, and, as far as he’s concerned, the prison is better off without her as the doctor,” Brown said.

Fye, 65, has been the medical director at Macon State Prison since 2006, making her one of most experienced physicians working for Georgia Correctional HealthCare, the branch of Augusta University that provides medical services for the state’s public prisons. She holds one of the most important positions in the Georgia prison healthcare system, overseeing a facility that provides round-the-clock care to inmates from multiple institutions, and receives an annual salary of $159,324.

But Tarver’s lawsuit, initially written in longhand and filed without an attorney in 2014, produced an unflattering portrait of Fye and her regard for those in her care at the Oglethorpe prison.

Evidence showed that a small cut above Tarver’s left ankle became severely infected even as the 55-year-old inmate was under observation in the prison infirmary. Finally, he was sent to Atlanta Medical Center, where his leg had to be amputated above the knee.

A former prison nurse testified in a deposition that Tarver’s wound was so foul-smelling that the odor was noticeable even to those in other rooms. Another testified that she informed Fye that tissue inside the wound had turned black, but the doctor did nothing about it.

Fye testified in a deposition that she never noticed the smell or the black tissue. She also contended that her treatment of Tarver was adequate because she twice prescribed antibiotics and at one point had him admitted to the emergency room at a local hospital

Among other testimony, a former physician assistant at the prison testified that Fye denied appropriate medication to a former deputy sheriff from the Atlanta area with HIV. The inmate had a virulent strain of herpes that left him writhing in pain. The AJC was able to contact the former officer, who confirmed the physician assistant’s account.

All told, five former healthcare workers at the prison gave depositions supporting Tarver and raising questions about Fye.

Following the AJC article disclosing those issues, representatives from Georgia Correctional HealthCare and the Department of Corrections conducted a one-day “site visit” at the prison on Sept. 15 to “ascertain the status of the medical unit in light of the newspaper article.”

Danny Finn, GCHC director of human resources, and Jack Williams, the DOC deputy director of health services, interviewed Fye and 10 other current prison employees and concluded that, while the doctor could be blunt and lacking in tact, there was no evidence of inadequate care, according to a one-page summary written by Finn and dated Sept. 19.

“Dr. Fye herself was genuinely hurt by the article and was visibly upset,” Finn wrote. “She could not provide a reason why these ex-employees would make such damaging comments as, outside of one of them who she described as `lazy,’ she had a good relationship with them.”

There’s no indication in the summary, obtained by the AJC last week through an open records request, that Finn and Williams interviewed former employees or inmates or reviewed medical records.

Neither Finn nor Williams responded to phone and email messages from the AJC.

Christen Engel, Augusta University’s associate vice president for communications, wrote in an email that no former employees were interviewed because the purpose of the review was to “assess current workplace conditions and relations.”

As for medical records, she wrote that peer review had determined that “no further action was warranted.” She declined to provide details, saying the review is protected.

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