Winchester Doctor To Plead Guilty Friday In Chattanooga In Overdose Death Cases

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Winchester, Tn., doctor charged in three "causing-death" overdose cases of patients is set to plead guilty and be sentenced in Chattanooga on Friday morning.

Dr. Elizabeth Reimers, 40, is set to appear before Judge Sandy Mattice.

Prosecutors and the defense had reached agreement in February on a plea agreement for Dr. Elizabeth Reimers that carries a 70-month sentence.

Her attorney, Jerry Summers, is also asking that she not be required to go into prison on Friday. He said she needs to recover from an ankle injury, and he said she has not gotten into any trouble while on pre-trial release.

The initial 130-count indictment charged Dr. Reimers with freely administering pain-killer drugs, that were allegedly abused by some of those who obtained them. She had faced up to 20 years.

She is to plead guilty to three counts of dispensing a controlled substance outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.

She surrendered her medical license early on in the case and has not been practicing medicine.

Dr. Reimers grew up in Clarksville, Tn., and moved to Winchester in 2001. She lives with her husband of 18 years and her two daughters, ages 14 and 8. She has been on release since Oct. 30, 2008.

The defense's sentencing memorandum says:

"Dr. Elizabeth Reimers became a doctor because she wanted to be a good and productive person in the world. She is a very compassionate person. She was adopted by her parents when she was just two days old. She grew up in Clarksville, Tennessee, and lived a fairly normal childhood. She was very smart and could read and spell by the age of three. She was a Girl Scout, cheerleader, and played volleyball in grade school and high school. Her mother was a high school teacher for twenty-five years and her father retired from Austin Peay State University in 1999 after 52 years in various aspects of education. Her relationship with her parents has always been strong.

"Dr. Reimers graduated from Clarksville Academy with honors. She then attended two years of college at APSU followed by two years at the University of Tennessee. She graduated from the University of Tennessee, Summa Cum Laude, in 1992. She then attended medical school in Memphis and earned her medical degree from the University of Tennessee. She completed her residency program at Memphis Central Hospital.

"Following her residency, Dr. Reimers started a private practice with two of her medical school classmates in Olive Branch, Mississippi. She continued on the teaching staff at Methodist Central Hospital on a part-time basis. After approximately two years, the private practice closed due to administrative problems, and Elizabeth moved to Winchester to join the Cumberland Healthcare Group and partnered with Dr. Zimmerman.

"Dr. Reimers’ own words can best describe why she wanted to become a physician:

"Being a physician was thrilling because I wanted to help people by
diagnosing and treating their problems. I was interested in Medicine since the sixth grade and was relieved that I made it through and was well thought of in the community. I treated each patient as an individual with individual problems, treatment and expectations. I listened to my patients and this was what my patients commented the most - that I really listened to their complaints and treated them fairly. I felt that my patients were special and not just a bunch of regular people who liked to complain. I was able to sympathize and empathize with my patients and their families. Patients begged me not to leave the community and I didn’t intend to do so because I felt like I was making a difference and that was certainly my goal.

"Dr. Reimers and her family have already suffered more than most defendants and her absence while serving a prison sentence for this case will be difficult for all of them. Dr. Reimers gave up her medical license, something that she worked very hard to earn. She has lost the ability to provide for her family financially. She has seen the emotional and physical toll that this case has had on her young daughters. She lost her father earlier this year, who had been her strongest supporter and advocate. She has not had time to grieve his loss. She has suffered damage to her reputation both as a doctor and as a member of the community. She has endured the negative publicity surrounding her case. She has suffered major depression and anxiety. She regrets committing this offense and has accepted responsibility for her decisions. However, she was driven by compassion and believed that she was helping her patients’ pain."

Prosecutor John MacCoon responded by saying there had been "a large amount of mercy incorporated" in reducing the amount of time to 70 months.

He said, "Those who futilely begged Dr. Reimers not to furnish addictive drugs to their addicted loved ones might find the compromise sentence unduly light. Those who saw their loved ones relapse with Dr. Reimers’ prescriptions after fighting their addiction in drug rehabilitation therapy might understandably argue for a harsher sentence. Those who saw their loved ones die of an overdose of the same medication to which they were addicted and which was prescribed by Dr. Reimers might find 70 months a small price to pay compared to the damage done to them and their addicted loved ones. The emergency room staff who came to expect that drug overdoses would be Dr. Reimers’ patients who were addicted to what came to be known as the “Reimers’ cocktail” of addictive pain medication might well view the 70-month sentence as less than adequate. The medical examiner who, like the emergency room staff, had continually warned Dr. Reimers of her dangerous prescribing practices, might find an excess of mercy in her stipulated sentence.

"The plea agreement represents a compromise, and already factors in the mitigating considerations advanced by the defense. While defendant understandably suggest that a lesser sentence might be sufficient, the countervailing considerations adumbrated above demonstrate that the sentence is a fair balancing of the competing considerations, and help explain why the defendant agreed to the presumptively reasonable guideline sentence contained in the plea agreement."

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