Dr. Michael Thom

Dr. Michael Thom is shown in this photo taken from a UW School of Medicine and Public Health website.

STEVE APPS, STATE JOURNAL

Dr. Michael Thom of UW Health resigned and surrendered his license in February, amid an allegation of sexual misconduct with a patient, in a manner that allowed the case to remain secret.

Allegations that Thom, 67, of Madison, inappropriately touched a female patient’s breasts and sent her photos of his penis were “very serious,” the state Department of Safety and Professional Services said, according to records made public Monday by Fox 6 (WITI-TV) in Milwaukee. The Wisconsin State Journal obtained the records from the state on Tuesday.

Thom didn’t deny the photos were of him and said the sexual relationship was consensual, said his attorney, Patti Putney. He didn’t respond to a phone message from the State Journal seeking comment, and he declined comment to Fox 6.

A state attorney told a member of the Medical Examining Board to promptly accept Thom’s surrender of his license so a medical board committee meeting a few days later wouldn’t open a case against him, which would make the action public.

“Once opened, the surrender would have to be accomplished by a public order, which is what Dr. Thom seeks to avoid in light of the embarrassing circumstances,” Joost Kap, an attorney for the state licensing department, wrote Feb. 9 to Dr. Mary Jo Capodice, secretary of the medical board.

“There is no danger to patients or the public in accepting the surrender now, and doing so would conserve Board and Department resources,” Kap wrote.

Nine minutes later, Capodice approved the surrender, effective the same day. Thom resigned from UW effective Feb. 15.

Arthur Thexton, a former licensing department attorney who investigated cases there for 24 years, told Fox 6 the way the department handled the case was “completely inappropriate.”

“I never saw a case handled this way,” Thexton said. “This is basically secret discipline.”

The medical board is “not there to protect the licensees,” he said. “They are there to protect the public.”

Alicia Bork, spokeswoman for the licensing department, said the resolution of the case “eliminated the risk of lengthy litigation which could have resulted in an uncertain outcome that may have ultimately allowed Dr. Thom to remain eligible to practice.”

“Dr. Thom agreed to surrender his medical license and never seek licensure in Wisconsin nor any other state; he simultaneously resigned from his position,” Bork said. “Those two actions decisively ended a 40-year medical career that was free of professional discipline.”

Bork said UW and the state reported the case to the National Practitioner Data Bank, which licensing agencies and employers can check but does not publicly identify providers disciplined.

UW Health spokeswoman Lisa Brunette said no other patients made any kind of allegations against Thom, who had worked in internal medicine at UW since 1996.

UW investigated the situation in December, during which Thom didn’t see patients, and sent its report to the state, Brunette said.

It’s not unusual for doctors under investigation by the state to surrender their licenses, but that typically happens after cases are opened, eventually making some details of the cases public.

UnityPoint Health-Meriter fired Dr. Shawn Yetman in 2011, prompting the state to open a case in 2013 that led Yetman to surrender his license in 2014.

After the State Journal reviewed the public order against him in 2015, the newspaper obtained other state records that said Meriter fired Yetman after two of the seven patients he operated on during his short time at the hospital died.

Yetmen left the heart-bypass surgery patients on a heart-lung bypass machine too long and mishandled their bypasses, state records said.

The families of the patients — Nancy Glumske, 61, of Elroy, and Thomas Pliner, 77, of Waunakee — didn’t know that Yetman had been fired or why until the State Journal contacted them. They filed lawsuits against Yetman and Meriter, which are pending.

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David Wahlberg is the health and medicine reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.