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St. Peter's hires new oncologist and hematologist

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St. Peter's Health hospital in Helena.

St. Peter's Health hospital in Helena.

Dr. Elizabeth Bigger has been named the new oncologist and hematologist at St. Peter’s Health, medical center officials said Monday, adding that she will begin seeing patients in late February.

Bigger will join radiation oncologist Dr. Andrew Cupino and the Cancer Care staff, officials said.

"This is a huge step forward in rebuilding our cancer care program and delivering on our promise to be the gold standard for cancer and hematology care in Helena," St. Peter's Health Medical Group President Dr. Todd Wampler said in a news release.

He said Bigger has elite training and an impressive background, and her practices "align strongly with evidence-based medicine and the team-centered culture" they are cultivating at St. Peter’s.

Bigger has more than 15 years of experience providing oncology and hematology care and is relocating to Helena from Massachusetts, where she is practicing at Mass General Cancer Center.

Bigger replaces Dr. Thomas Weiner, who was fired from the hospital more than a year ago and is now embroiled in a wrongful termination lawsuit with the health center over his dismissal. In his lawsuit, Weiner, who had been with St. Peter's nearly 25 years, states he had seen as many as 1,500 patients a month. The hospital said Weiner had incorrectly treated a patient for lung cancer for 11 years and said it had learned of “alarming narcotic prescribing practices” by Weiner.

The lawsuit is scheduled to be heard in a Helena courtroom on Nov. 14, 2022.

St. Peter’s has hired temporary oncologists, known as “locum tenens,” to work at the hospital’s Cancer Treatment Center, which is undergoing a renovation project. St. Peter's officials said in April the hospital will affiliate with Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, saying this will give patients undergoing cancer and hematology care access to more options for treatment and provide top cancer experts.

Wampler said earlier this month in a community forum that St. Peter’s officials were still looking for a permanent oncologist in Helena. He said they had made inroads and expected to make an announcement soon.

"We have some candidates who are interested, but they are not right for our community," he said at the time. 

Bigger received her undergraduate degree from Yale University and her medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine. She completed her residency at Vanderbilt University and her fellowship at Duke University Medical Center, and she began her clinical career as an instructor in global health oncology at Harvard Medical School. Along with being board-certified in oncology medicine and hematology, Bigger is also board-certified in internal medicine, St. Peter's officials said.

“We are incredibly fortunate to welcome Dr. Bigger to St. Peter’s Health. It has been a long wait to find the right medical oncologist for our community and we thank everyone for their patience,” St. Peter's Health Chief Executive Officer Wade Johnson said in a news release.

“Combining the incredible talent, training and experience of Dr. Bigger and Dr. Cupino, along with an amazing cancer care team and our affiliation with the Huntsman Cancer Institute is a huge step forward in our goal to provide world-class cancer care in Helena,” he said. “The future has never been brighter.”

St. Peter's staff and providers have been working with Huntsman Cancer Institute to streamline care practices and align with the academic medical center standard of care.

Huntsman clinicians have worked with St. Peter’s employees at the Regional Medical Center, and several St. Peter’s workers have gone to Salt Lake City to train at the academic medical center, St. Peter's officials said.

Assistant editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.

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