lawmaker’s torrid affair with his cousin!
In a Divorce Trial, Serious Allegations About Sen. Joey Hensley
Hohenwald Republican is alleged to have had an affair with his nurse and prescribed her opioids
Mar 8, 2017 2 PM
The details sound straight out of a soap opera.
A doctor and his younger nurse fall in love. They continue their torrid affair even after his ex-wife tips off the nurse’s husband, a local politician, to the salacious goings-on. As the divorce moves forward, discovery turns up that the nurse is not just the doctor’s employee and his lover, but his patient, with a predilection for pain pills. And, oh, she’s his second cousin, too.
But this is not General Hospital, not Grey’s Anatomy. This is the town of Hohenwald (pop. 3,703) in Lewis County, where bitter divorce proceedings have brought to light possibly unethical behavior by Dr. Joey Hensley, a Republican state senator who also happens to be a family physician — and one who has run for office since 2002 on a platform of conservative Christian values.
Hensley, 61, was subpoenaed to appear last week in Williamson County Circuit Court to testify in the divorce proceedings of Hohenwald Vice Mayor Don Barber and his wife Lori. He refused to show up, citing legislative and medical privilege.
“I didn’t have time to do it,” Hensley said when contacted on Friday afternoon. “I had nothing to do with the court case, and any testimony I would have given wouldn’t have made any difference.”
But according to the sworn testimony of both Barbers, Hensley has been having an affair with Lori since 2014. Lori, 48, is a part-time nurse in Hensley’s medical practice in Lewis County; she is also his second cousin.
Hensley gained national notoriety in 2012 as a sponsor of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would have banned public school teachers from even mentioning that homosexuality exists. During one hearing that year, Hensley commented, “I don’t think Modern Family is appropriate for children to watch” — because it features a married gay couple raising children. This session, Hensley is sponsoring a bill from the Tennessee Family Action Council that would make children created using donor sperm illegitimate — an attempt to make it harder for gay and lesbian parents to establish paternity. He is also a sponsor of the so-called “Milo Bill,” aimed at liberal practices on college campuses.
The subpoena ordered Hensley to bring evidence of any gifts or monies spent by him on Lori Barber or by her on him. Hensley declined to testify under a statute of Tennessee law that exempts “a member of the general assembly while in session” and also “a practicing physician” from subpoena to trial. But he will still be deposed about the affair, and that deposition will then be entered into the court record. The deposition has not been scheduled but is expected to occur in the next week or two.
According to testimony during the trial, Lori Barber started working for Hensley in 2013 part time as a licensed practical nurse in his practice, at a salary of $15 an hour. She still makes that same salary and currently works one day a week in his office. She had previously worked for Hensley from 1987 to 1988, prior to both her marriage and the completion of her nursing degree.
Barber testified she and Hensley began confiding in each other about problems in their marriages shortly after she took the job, but she said the relationship did not become sexual until December 2014, after the divorce became final between Hensley and his fourth wife, Gina, who is also a nurse. Their first sexual encounter was at Hensley’s practice, and soon, Barber said, the pair were discussing marriage.
This timeline is disputed by Don Barber. He found out about the affair in the spring of 2015, when Gina Hensley gave him a flash drive with evidence of her ex-husband’s affair, including recordings of phone calls and screenshots of sexually explicit text messages between Gina and Lori discussing Hensley’s sexual proclivities and detailing instances when he and Lori had sex. Court documents claim the files show that the affair began much earlier in 2014; proof of this was not shown in open court.
Around the same time that spring, Gina Hensley took out an order of protection from the senator, alleging he hit her with his car, twice. He denied it, and she eventually withdrew the claim. Sen. Hensley told Columbia’s Daily Herald at the time that Gina left him for another man, and he had “tried with all my heart to keep our family together.” He told the Scene something similar this week, saying, “I was devastated by my divorce.”
Lori Barber moved out in August 2015 and filed for divorce later that fall. She testified that she ended her affair with Hensley in April 2016, but that things started up again in June. She said the couple continue to discuss marriage as a future possibility. (It is legal in Tennessee for second cousins of any age to marry.)
Barber also testified that she spent the nights of Feb. 8 and and Feb. 14 this year with Hensley at a hotel in downtown Nashville while he was in town for legislative duties. Although those nights were presumably paid with a legislative per diem — i.e., state dollars — Legislative Administration director Connie Ridley said whether or not someone else stays with a legislator if he or she is in town on legitimate business “is not pertinent to the payment,” per state law.
Hensley denied that he is still romantically involved with Barber.
“No, I’m divorced, I don’t know what she’s talking about,” Hensley said when asked if they were still discussing marriage. He also denied that Barber had spent either night in February in his hotel room. When asked if this is what he would testify to under oath during his deposition, Hensley said he had no further comment.
In a second conversation three days later, Hensley said the affair lasted only “a few months.”
“It’s not still ongoing,” Hensley said Monday night. “That was several months ago, years ago. I didn’t break any laws. I’m not married, I’m divorced. … And nothing happened while I was married. … She didn’t leave because of me, it wasn’t because of me. We’ve been friends for 30 years or more. She’s related to me, but she’s been a friend too.”
But Lori Barber is not just a friend or a cousin or a lover — she is also Hensley’s patient. Barber testified in court that Hensley is her only doctor other than a cardiologist, and that she relies on him for recurrent Botox injections. She also said he has regularly prescribed her the hydrocodone-acetaminophen pill Lortab — a Schedule II controlled substance — for “chronic back pain,” which she said Hensley first diagnosed after she hurt her neck.
Court testimony and documents filed imply that Barber has possibly abused both alcohol and opioids; she testified that she has no problem with either and any uptick in consumption was due to the stress of the divorce. But in her deposition, Barber was asked by her husband’s lawyer, Rose Palermo, “And didn’t your parents come to you and say that this situation with the Lortab had to be reined in, because you were taking too many Lortabs?” Barber replied, “I was taking too many according to them, but I was taking exactly what I was prescribed.” Palermo followed up, “By Dr. Hensley?” Barber answered, “Yes.”
When asked last week if he often provides his nurses with opioid prescriptions, Hensley said he treats all his patients “the same” and declined further comment. On Monday, when asked if it concerned him that a nurse in his employ had been somewhat frequently taking hydrocodone, Hensley replied, “She’s a patient of mine, and anything I treat a patient with is [protected by] HIPAA.” She’s a patient, but she’s also an employee, the Scene said. “Well, it’s a small town. People don’t have an option for some things,” Hensley said.
It is a clear violation of the American Medical Association’s code of ethics — to which the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners subscribes — for a doctor to become romantically involved with a patient. It is also in violation of the state board’s guidelines to regularly treat immediate family members or prescribe them drugs. The policy states, in part, “Treatment of immediate family members should be reserved only for minor illnesses or emergency situations. … No schedule II, III or IV controlled substances should be dispensed or prescribed except in emergency situations.” But there are no AMA or state guidelines that specifically prohibit doctors from treating employees.
Yet an examination of recent disciplinary actions by the Board of Medical Examiners suggests Hensley’s actions with Barber could certainly border on the unethical. In the past year, from January 2016 to January 2017 (the latest month for which data was available), the board has taken action against at least 13 doctors for, in part, prescribing controlled substances to an employee, a family member or a patient with whom the doctor was in a romantic relationship. The actions ranged from a reprimand to license revocation or forced retirement, with an additional wide range of fines.
It’s important to note that no action was taken solely based on one instance of prescribing drugs to a family member or employee alone — all of the instances above include multiple and varied violations of state rules and regulations. And Hensley said his treatment of Barber is in no way a violation of the code of ethics, because he regularly treats a lot of family members.
“I’ve been practicing 30 years,” says Hensley. “I have thousands of patients. It’s a small town, and I have a lot of family. A lot of family. Cousins, uncles, aunts. … And I don’t treat anyone any different.”
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally says it is unlikely the state Senate will address the situation unless the Board of Medical Examiners does go forward with an investigation.
“If it were a violation of the Board of Medical Examiners’ ethics, and certainly if it rose to the level of anything more serious, then I think the Senate Ethics Committee could look at it,” McNally says. “But if it’s just a simple disciplinary-type issue that is not serious, then I don’t think the Ethics Committee … they probably wouldn’t take it up.”