By Callie Hietala
Dr. James Isernia, a Martinsville physician, is no longer employed by Sovah Internal Medicine, according to a statement issued by Hailey Fowlkes, Sovah Health’s marketing coordinator, on behalf of Sovah Physician Practices.
However, several questions remain unanswered, including the reason for Isernia’s separation from the healthcare system.
Neither Sovah nor Isernia have addressed that issue.
In a message, Isernia’s wife, Michelle, said, “we know everyone is not so patiently trying to get a ‘reason’ or the story as told by us. We very much appreciate everyone trying to hear both sides, but we are maintaining silence as advised by legal counsel as we push forward through this.”
In its statement, Sovah said “we cannot share the specifics of his departure as this is a personnel matter.” The statement did not address other questions, including the length of Isernia’s employment, the number of patients under his care at the time of his departure, and others.
It did, however, address concerns voiced among many of Isernia’s patients regarding transition of care. “As with any physician departure, we are taking the appropriate steps to notify patients and ensure a smooth transition of their care. Letters went out to all patients last week and more information can be found on our website” at http://sovahphysicians.com/sovah-internal-medicine—martinsville-suite-201, according to the statement.
The group directly affected by Isernia’s departure is not silent—his former patients.
Trina Wells, who said she was treated by Isernia for at least 20 years, started a Facebook group, JusticeForDrJimmy, soon after she heard about the issue from a friend.
The news, she said, “spread like wildfire.”
And the group, which has since been made private, grew quickly. It currently has more than 1,400 members.
“There’s this huge outcry,” said Wells. “He’s not just a doctor to most of us, he’s (Isernia’s) our friend. He’s taken care of our family members when they’re on their deathbed. He’s come to family members’ homes when they can’t come to him. He is as passionate about his patients as we are about him.”
Wells said she considers both Isernia and his wife family.
She fondly recalled a call from Michelle (or Chelle, as she calls her) when Wells’ mother passed away. She said that Chelle just wanted to hear her voice, to see how she was doing.
“How many people would do that,” Wells asked, and added the Isernias both attended the visitation.
“They showed up together. He had worked all day, was still in a lab coat, but he came,” she said.
As the creator of the Facebook page, Wells said she has become the public face of the movement to get “justice for Dr. Jimmy.” People within the group, former patients of Isernia’s, have reached out to her with questions about their care. The predominate concerns are where they will be able to find a new primary care physician and whether they will still be able to get prescriptions refilled.
“One lady called me just absolutely bawling,” she said, illustrating the level of concern and uncertainty the situation has created among patients.
Wells said the situation was not handled properly, in her opinion.
“If they knew they were going to terminate Dr. Isernia, it looks like they would have assigned a physician” to take his place during the transition, she said.
The webpage linked in Sovah’s statement says that the hospital is “taking the appropriate steps to notify patients as we work to secure new primary care providers for the office. In the interim, to ensure there is no disruption in your care, our office will continue to provide chronic care management and medication management, as applicable, through February 10.”
Wells said that while she does not know how many patients Isernia was treating, she estimated the number exceeded 1,000.
Many of Isernia’s supporters participated in a rally last week. Wells estimated 120 people stood along Commonwealth Boulevard, the main thoroughfare leading to Sovah’s Martinsville site, in 20-degree temperatures, waving signs to show their support of their doctor.
Without an official reason for Isernia’s separation from Sovah, Wells said she has heard “plenty of rumors,” including that he refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine which, she said, is untrue.
Wells said she also heard that the action might have stemmed from overprescribing narcotics, though she said she does not believe that is accurate either.
That rumor stems from a 2020 order from the Virginia Board of Medicine formally reprimanding Isernia for violating Virginia code and “the Board’s Regulations Governing the Prescribing of Opioids and Buprenorphine … from approximately March 2017 through January 2019.”
That order was signed by Isernia in May 2020, and by July, a letter was issued acknowledging Isernia’s compliance with the consent order and lifting the terms and conditions placed on his license.
While questions abound about the circumstances around Isernia’s departure from Sovah, what is crystal clear is the passion he inspires in his patients, as evidenced by the daily postings in the social media group.
Wells said the outpouring of support came as no surprise.
Isernia is “a hero to a lot of us,” she said.
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