Dr. Feel Worse 

In response to the Scene’s investigation of Tennessee’s biggest diet doc, former patients, employees and colleagues speak out

A funny thing happened after the Scene published a story detailing the sexual, professional and ethical misadventures of “Tennessee’s No. 1 diet doctor” last month (“Dr. Feelbad,” Aug. 24). We received a number of unsolicited phone calls, letters and emails from people who Dr. Richard Feldman had abused or infuriated.
A funny thing happened after the Scene published a story detailing the sexual, professional and ethical misadventures of “Tennessee’s No. 1 diet doctor” last month  (“Dr. Feelbad,” Aug. 24). We received a number of unsolicited phone calls, letters and emails from people who Dr. Richard Feldman had abused or infuriated. Some of the missives came from former employees who had suffered all manner of humiliation at the hands of the doctor. One message came from an ex-girlfriend of Feldman’s who described his sadistic sexual appetites in chilling detail. Another came from an employee who endured such severe sexual harassment from Feldman that she would need years of therapy to have normal relationships with men.These anecdotes describe the same recklessness, sexual molesting and harassment detailed in the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners findings against Feldman. They also paint the picture of a spiteful and unpleasant man who holds grudges and treats subordinates and patients with a complete lack of respect.Almost all of the people who worked for or with Dr. Feldman and chose to be interviewed by the Scene requested that their real names be withheld. The reason?Fear.All of these people describe Feldman as a man who holds a grudge and carries a gun. In fact, the Scene obtained a copy of his handgun carry permit from the Tennessee Department of Safety. One source, a former nurse in his practice, says that Feldman never left home without a revolver strapped to his ankle. “He liked to show it off,” she says. “You know, I’m big, I’m bad, I got a gun.”Feldman once assaulted a patient, Ray Cross, for calling the doctor at 2 a.m. Cross wound up filing a police report about the incident, in which Feldman, among other things, “kicked me between the legs and buttocks,” Cross says.A surgeon who knew Feldman while he had operating privileges at the now-defunct Nashville Memorial Hospital says that Feldman once waved “a very large handgun, a .44 magnum, I think,” around the doctor’s lounge in the hospital.In addition to fearing for their physical safety, these people say that because of Feldman’s wealth, he could use the courts to make life very unpleasant and expensive for them. Feldman has also told many that he has connections in the Metro Nashville Police Department and could get away with everything from speeding to murder.“He thinks he’s above the law,” says the surgeon.Feldman’s feeling of invulnerability is understandable. In a career that has included documented molesting, groping, insulting, assaulting and yelling at patients, unethical business practices, a sexual harassment settlement and a wrongful death lawsuit, he faced minimal official punishment from the Tennessee medical board.And now he’s in trouble with the board again, this time over a controversial weight loss treatment called mesotherapy. The treatment, which sometimes involves hundreds of injections of a cocktail of medications, might end up costing him a small fortune.The medical board says that Feldman’s now-defunct website, www.doctorsantiaging.com, made claims about mesotherapy that were unsupported by research. These included statements that patients will lose “one pound of fat per week on average…equal to four sticks of butter!”The case is now in discovery, and the next scheduled proceeding in the matter is in November. If the board finds against him and Feldman is penalized to the full extent of the law, he would have to pay a $1,000 fine for every time he stuck someone with a mesotherapy needle. Not $1,000 per patient, but for each injection given to his patients. Because some treatment regimens require hundreds of injections per session, the cost to Feldman could be astronomical.Feldman might also have to pay $500 for each day that he advertised the wondrous effects of mesotherapy. According to the medical board documents, his mesotherapy website was up from “at least Sept. 29, 2004, until on or about May 24, 2005.” That would total $120,000.Given the medical board’s history of leniency with Feldman, it’s quite possible that his medical license won’t be revoked. For some of his former employees and patients, it’s already too late.  Julia (not her real name) was just 19 when she went to see Dr. Feldman in the late 1980s. At the time, Feldman was still working as a general practitioner and hawking diet aids  such as expensive shakes. Julia says that the doctor took a liking to her and offered her a job as one of his medical assistants. She had just graduated from high school and had absolutely no experience as a medical practitioner. At the time, she was working in retail.She figured that Feldman hired her because he wanted to give a nice local girl a start. His true motivation, she would later learn, turned out to be more libidinal than charitable. She says he constantly brought up sexual subjects or made inappropriate remarks about her body.Her job as his assistant involved giving shots as well as calling in prescriptions, performing urinalysis and cultures.“I would not draw blood,” Julia says now. She says she told him, “If you want me to do that, send me to school.”Julia isn’t the first person with zero medical experience that Feldman has asked to treat his patients. Patsy Harvey, who worked for Feldman as a part-time file clerk, was also pressed into duty to administer injections.  She says that Feldman never hired certified nurses because he was  “too cheap to pay them.”“He would hire some girl off the street before he hired a real nurse,” Harvey says. “He called me in there one day and wanted me to give a patient a shot.” Harvey’s experience with the medical profession begins and ends in the file room. She refused to touch the needle.  “He cussed me,” she says. The doctor then made a grab for the needle and when he did, “it stuck him” and he became enraged. “Boy, he was really mad then,” she says.Feldman’s attorney, Larry Roberts, speaks slowly and deliberately, his voice redolent with the confidence of his cause, often ending sentences with rhetorical flourishes. He refers to the Scene’s cover story about his client as “a hatchet job of the highest order.”He claims that one of the sources named in the story is a homosexual. Roberts says he’s “heard that people of that persuasion stick together.” He adds, “I’ve heard that you are also of that persuasion,” referring to this reporter, who, for the record, isn’t gay.   Roberts dismisses all of the allegations made against his client’s character and professional conduct, including that Feldman ever claimed to have a connection in the police department. He says that all of those who have come forward with stories about Feldman’s behavior—almost all of whom are completely unrelated but tell nearly identical stories about Feldman—all probably have an ax to grind with his client.“As you pass through life, you can make some enemies,” Roberts says. “I’ve dealt with this doctor for a long time and his personality might be abrasive, but he is a man who cares tremendously about and for his patients.”As for Dr. Feldman’s nurses, Roberts says, “When you visit a doctor, a lot people think that everybody you see there is a nurse. That’s not true.” He added that all of Feldman’s nurses are “licensed by the state of Tennessee.”Addressing the motives of this newspaper, Roberts says, “You want to be able to come up with a sensational story. You just want to be able to say that you ran a doctor out of business.”What is most surprising is that Feldman has not run himself out of business. Julia, Feldman’s former employee, remembers the doctor berating patients and making light of their medical situations.When doing pelvic and vaginal exams, the doctor would often “make a face like something smelled bad” or “hold his nose.” Often the patients could not see Feldman, but they could see Julia, who says that it was tough for her to “keep a straight face.”In the medical board’s 1998 findings against Feldman, they found that he exhibited similar behavior when he made comments about an “old fish odor” coming from between a woman’s legs. He then asked his female assistant to “come closer and smell this,” according to medical board documents.Patsy Harvey, the former file clerk, says that she’d seen Feldman berate a male patient right in front of her for his appearance and odor. “He was always talking about smell,” she says.Julia says that Feldman wasn’t much better toward his staff. Feldman once had to pay a former employee $10,000 to avoid a sexual harassment suit. According to Julia and another former employee who worked with Feldman in the early 1990s, this abuse could take numerous forms.Julia remembers Feldman walking around the office playing a tape from a micro-cassette recorder at high volume. Feldman says that it was a recording of him having sex with his girlfriend. Another former employee says that she saw him push one of his nurses against a metal file cabinet in anger.Julia also claims that she walked in on the doctor having sex in the office and that it was known around the practice as a regular occurrence. A former girlfriend of Feldman’s confirms this.“I question whether that occurred,” Roberts says of the allegation that Feldman had sex in his office. But Roberts does say that “at one time Feldman had a private apartment on the premises.” His former employees say that he still does.  Feldman’s employees, lovers and patients were not the only ones subjected to his bizarre behavior. His colleagues also endured strange episodes in their workplace.The surgeon who knew Feldman at Nashville Memorial—and currently maintains a reputable local practice—says that when the hospital instituted a rule that all doctors had to be fluent in English, Feldman flew into a rage. “He just went off,” the surgeon says. “He thought it was some conspiracy to get rid of foreign graduate students that had accents. There were several, but they all spoke English.”He says that Feldman “turned himself into an absolute asshole about it” and claimed “it was a racist place to work.”According to the surgeon, Feldman was in the doctors’ lounge—the same lounge where he’d previously waved a gun around—and began “ranting and raving about how prejudiced all the doctors at Memorial were.” Feldman then said, “I’m going to call Sen. Edward Kennedy about this.”The surgeon says that Feldman picked up the phone, asked for Sen. Kennedy, got connected directly to the senior legislator and had a 10-minute conversation with him.“There’s no way he was actually talking to Sen. Ted Kennedy. None of us believed that. It was weird and pathetic.”The surgeon also describes how Feldman would fly patients in his private plane to Cincinnati and write prescriptions for the controversial diet drug Phen-Fen there.While on the subject of flying, Feldman would talk at length about “the mile-high club and how fun it was to have sex on a plane,” the surgeon says. Feldman told the surgeon that if he “wanted a ride, he could arrange it. I told him, ‘I don’t like private planes much.’ ”As puzzled as the surgeon is by Feldman’s behavior, he’s even more astonished that Feldman has gotten away with it for so long, even after being brought before the medical board for his aggressive sexual behavior.“The medical board is inept,” he says. “It’s beyond belief.”A medical board spokesperson says that the board does not comment on specific doctors when they have cases pending before the board, though she did provide a written reply in boilerplate bureaucrat-ese, complete with a 1-800 number that can be used to file a complaint.   Unfortunately for Julia, it’s too late for that. Her time with Feldman left deep emotional scars. “I was only 19,” she says. “I didn’t know what I was doing, and I needed the money…. He completely damaged my trust and made it difficult to deal with male authority figures.”Eventually, he revealed his true reason for hiring the young woman. She says that one day he told her, “I hired you because you’re cute and I wanted to date you.”She quit shortly thereafter but she’s had to spend time in therapy. She’s not bitter, but she looks back with regret. “He made my life a living hell.” 


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