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‘Beloved’ fired oncologist inspires patient-funded billboards


Driving along busy Custer Avenue in Helena, Mont., residents and visitors may notice a large billboard that simply reads: “We Support Dr. Tom Weiner.”

The sign costs $750 per month to rent and is funded entirely by cancer patients and locals.

They got together to raise $5,000 through a huge yard sale this summer. Some of the volunteers were cancer patients with active disease, challenged by a record-breaking heatwave, but determined to show up for the man they call “our doc.”

Dr. Weiner was their medical oncologist, and they want him back.

After working for 24 years at the only medical center in Helena, including the last five as its sole medical oncologist, Dr. Weiner was suddenly fired in November 2020.

He was removed for allegedly causing harm to patients, despite having a flawless record with the state’s Board of Medical Examiners, as previously reported by this news organization.

Since then, Dr. Weiner launched a lawsuit against the medical center, St. Peter’s Health, and seeks damages in a jury trial, now scheduled for the fall of 2022.

Patients and families quickly rallied to support him. Within days, they formed the Facebook group We stand with Dr. Tom Weiner (4,000+ members) and, later, the more activist-oriented Patients and Friends of Dr. Tom Weiner (600+ members). Unlike some cause-oriented social media sites, the groups are busy, with fresh posts nearly every day.

In the past year, these supporters, who sometimes call themselves “Team Weiner,” have become a presence in Helena (population 32,000), undertaking a steady stream of activism, including performing weekly “stand-in” protests outside St. Peter’s.

In addition to funding billboards, the collection of patients, family members, and friends have installed lawn signs and worn face masks and T-shirts with pro-Weiner messages. All promotions are paid for by supporters.

Dr. Weiner does not participate in these activities, nor does he receive any of the money raised, his supporters emphasize.

A number of patients have also filed their own lawsuit against St. Peter’s for allegedly removing its only oncologist “without adequate notice or planning,” which “caused the hundreds of cancer patients to be left in a lurch without adequate care,” according to Keif Storrar, a lawyer involved in the suit.

Nearly a year after firing Dr. Weiner, St. Peter’s still does not have a replacement.

“We currently have three locum tenens medical oncologists and hematologists,” said Kathryn Gallagher, a spokesperson for St. Peter’s.

The medical center is “working closely with Huntsman Cancer Institute [in Utah] to operationalize our affiliation and recruit permanent medical oncologists to St. Peter’s,” she added.

Doc not working for nearly a year

Dr. Weiner, who is married with two adult children, has not worked over the past 11 months.

During that time, many of his former patients and their loved ones have been unwavering in their support for him. Some lit up their homes at Christmas with unifying purple lights to keep their tie with the oncologist symbolically alive.

“This is something of a phenomenon — this doctor is so beloved in this community. We will not give up,” commented Laura Fix, a local wine and spirits store owner who is married to one of Dr. Weiner’s former patients.

“Funny story,” said Ms. Fix, “when all this happened and we got the Facebook page going, and everyone was telling their personal story [about Dr. Weiner], I said to my husband, ‘God, I thought he just liked us.’ I realized he was wonderful with everybody and then I liked him even more.”

Dr. Weiner’s case has created a movement among otherwise strangers.

“None of us knew each other before,” said Dayna Hartley, a former patient treated for ovarian cancer and under Dr. Weiner’s care at the time of his firing.

“We all came together in our love for Dr. Weiner. Now we’re tight. Super tight,” she commented.

A former patient of Dr. Weiner’s at a weekly “stand-in” protest near St. Peter’s Health in Helena.

A silent prayer vigil for Dr. Weiner is planned for October 15, the 1-year anniversary of his being suspended by St Peter’s (which was followed by his firing in November). The candlelight event will take place on sidewalks outside of the medical center’s campus.

Ms. Gallagher said the medical center has not attempted to stop the near-yearlong protests: “We respect peaceful protest on public property,” she noted.

Vigil participants can sign a card for Dr. Weiner or deposit one with the organizers, which will be sent to the oncologist. He does not work with the activists and will not attend the vigil.

His lawyer, J. Devlan Geddes, said that Dr. Weiner “is very humbled and appreciative of the support he has received from the community” and hopes to return to work in Helena.


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