INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Questions, accusations, and malpractice claims all surround a neurosurgeon who practiced in central Indiana for decades.
According to patients, Dr. John T. Cummings abruptly left Community Health Network two years ago with no explanation.
Some patients just want to know what happened to their neurosurgeon, but others contacted CBS4 Problem Solvers with their concerns, so we started investigating.
Former patient Lisa Bryant stepped forward first, saying she wants to know the truth and she filed a medical malpractice claim with the Indiana Department of Insurance against Cummings and Community Health Network.
“We had a connection. … I thought he was a very nice man,” Bryant said.
Bryant first saw Cummings for leg and back pain in 2013. She said pretty quickly, he told her surgery was her best option.
“I felt comfortable,” Bryant said.
Coming out of that surgery, though, Bryant said her condition worsened and she underwent more surgeries, enduring more pain that still continues to this day.
“It’s bad. Some days I wake up, three or four o’clock in the morning, I cry. It hurts,” Bryant said.
It’s that pain, and the questions Bryant said still linger, that caused her to reach out. Bryant said in the midst of her treatment, Cummings left Community Health with no explanation.
“I was really thinking this is all normal, and it’s not,” Bryant said.
CBS4 Problem Solvers found that Bryant is not the only patient with questions, and in some cases, accusations.
The Indiana Department of Insurance posts medical malpractice claims on a public database online. In the last four years, 15 patients have filed claims against Cummings. Two of those cases have since been dismissed.
Randy Stohler filed one of the now-dismissed cases. His sister, Teresa Knight, said her family couldn’t see a path forward with the claim after Stohler died from a heart attack earlier this year.
“It is hard, we do talk about him a lot, what if? He has a daughter and he’s got two very young granddaughters,” Knight said.
Knight said she was with her brother for a spinal surgery in June of 2015, and a year later, when he decided to take action.
“We were sitting at the house one day and kind of talking. He says, ‘You know Teresa … I think I need to see an attorney,’” Knight said.
Stohler’s family voluntarily dismissed his claim after his death, but 13 cases against Cummings remain active.
Those cases vary widely in how much detail patients reveal in their complaints, but many patients describe undergoing complicated spinal surgeries. More than one accuse Cummings of performing “unnecessary” surgery or going “directly to surgery” instead of seeking “conservative treatment.”
Other patients describe “severe pain” and the need for “additional” procedures or corrective surgeries.
It’s important to note that medical malpractice claims are common and neurosurgery is a field where the risk of surgery can be incredibly high. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine ranked neurosurgery as the number one field for lawsuits, with nearly 20 percent of all neurosurgeons facing a malpractice claim each year.
CBS4 Problem Solvers wanted to get an explanation, but Community Health Network declined our request for an interview and refused to answer multiple questions.
A spokesperson for the hospital system would only confirm Cummings’ dates of employment, which started in 2010 and ended on December 10, 2015.
In Indiana, medical malpractice claims must be reviewed by a panel of three doctors before a lawsuit can proceed in court. Most cases take years to resolve.
Only one panel has convened in a case against Cummings since 2014. This August, that panel came to the “unanimous opinion” that he and Community Health Network “failed to comply with the appropriate standard of care.” The case involved a woman who said Cummings “improperly placed hardware” in her spine during a surgery.
Additionally, an earlier 2011 case alleging that a piece of equipment “entered the spinal canal” during surgery, causing the patient to be permanently disabled, was allowed to go forward based on a 2014 panel decision.
That case, however, was instead settled for $1,000,000, a month after Cummings left the hospital.
Michael Ellington had no idea he would be one of Cummings’ last patients. After surgery in December 2015, Ellington said he tried to get in touch with the doctor about his pain.
Ellington later received a letter, telling patients “effective immediately, Dr. John T. Cummings will no longer see patients at Community.”
Ellington said another doctor diagnosed him with a spinal fluid leak and he underwent a second surgery.
“I haven’t been the same since,” Ellington said.
It’s unclear whether the claims, and their timing, are linked to Cummings’ parting from Community. The surgeon faced more than a dozen malpractice claims prior to 2014 and a majority were dismissed, or medical panels found no malpractice.
There are also patients who say they received great care from the surgeon. One told Community Health Network on Facebook, “You lost a top notch surgeon … (who) saved my back and kept me walking.”
Another patient even created a Facebook group dedicated to search for Cummings after his departure, saying “he remains undoubtedly one of the best neurosurgeons in Indianapolis.”
Cummings was also featured as a “Top Doctor” in Indianapolis Monthly magazine in 2013 and 2015.
Hospital tax records show that in 2011, Cummings was one of Community Health’s highest paid physicians, making more than $1.2 million.
What is clear, is that many patients want to know what happened to Cummings; but in the case of Bryant, Ellington, and Knight, it’s because they say they’re concerned.
“We have no idea, but certainly there is a problem,” Knight said.
“Definitely I believe that I’m not the only one,” Bryant said.
CBS4 Problem Solvers tried to find Cummings to get his side of the story. He appeared to still be living in the area, and a woman who identified herself as his wife said via Facebook that he had not been practicing because of what she called an “exclusive clause” with Community Health Network, which ends next month, exactly two years after his last day.
Lawyers for Cummings did not return repeated requests for comment.
Even though a medical panel found Cummings responsible in one case in August, they also recommended his name not be forwarded to the Medical Licensing Board for fitness to practice.
The board renewed Cummings’ Indiana medical license a few weeks ago.
CBS4 Problem Solvers wants to hear from patients, whether you’ve had a good or bad experience. You can contact us at ProblemSolvers@cbs4indy.com or (317) 677-1544.
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Questions, accusations, and malpractice claims all surround a neurosurgeon who practiced in central Indiana for decades. According to patients, Dr. John T. Cummings abruptly left Community Health Network two years ago with no explanation. Some patients just want to know what happened to their neurosurgeon, but others contacted CBS4 Problem Solvers with…