Alaska News

Numerous complaints filed with State Medical Board over doctors and COVID-19 misinformation

The Alaska State Medical Board has opened complaints on nine medical providers licensed in the state involving concerns about misinformation surrounding COVID-19 treatments.

The complaints involve seven physicians, one physician assistant, and one advanced practice registered nurse, according to Sara Chambers, director of the state Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing, which provides staffing for the medical board.

An opened complaint is an intake status based on information received from the public and does not imply any finding of guilt or innocence, Chambers said. The providers have not been publicly identified.

Now, board staffers are working through hundreds of comments received in recent days and expect additional complaints to surface, she said. Updated information should be available early next week.

The issue rose to the spotlight last week after a group of Alaska physicians — ultimately nearly 150 — signed a letter asking the board to investigate the conduct of local doctors who have publicly advocated for the use of COVID-19 treatments such as ivermectin. The request was later endorsed by the nearly 500-member Alaska Medical Association.

[US opens COVID boosters to all adults, urges them for 50+]

The medical board took no action Friday in a regularly scheduled quarterly meeting that included an hour of public testimony on the request.

The board received more than 600 emailed comments on the topic, a sudden deluge that came in just days before the scheduled quarterly meeting, and was not on the official agenda.

“Today is a time we are going to listen,“ board chair Dr. Richard Wein said before testimony began. “We as a board will in the future will be reviewing this and addressing the issue appropriately with the appropriate amount of time.”

In closing comments, Wein said, “I know it’s a very passionate issue, and I know everyone has their opinion including myself, but the board has to be responsive to the constituents which are both not only medical providers, but also citizens of the state.”

The medical board’s process for investigating complaints against physicians is posted on a state website.

The doctor or doctors involved in the complaints have not been identified. The board does not disclose the names of doctors under investigation unless they are sanctioned.

Pat Dougherty, a former Daily News editor, has filed complaints with the board. In testimony Friday, he said one doctor undermined public health when they testified before the Anchorage Assembly that the “risk of wearing a mask outweighs the benefit.” Another, at an early treatment summit last month, erroneously said vaccines don’t prevent infection, he said.

“Stop a handful of irresponsible Alaska doctors from spreading dangerous misinformation in the guise of medical fact during a pandemic that has killed more than 800 Alaskans,” Dougherty said.

[Alaska reports 20 COVID-19 deaths and over 500 new cases Friday]

Two local doctors — Ilona Farr and John Nolte — spoke at an event about COVID-19 early treatments featuring prominent vaccine skeptics in Anchorage late last month organized by a group called the Alaska Covid Alliance.

Farr testified Friday that she spoke at the summit to raise awareness.

“I’ve been very successful in treatment hundreds of patients, and keeping them out of the hospital,” she said. “I have used these treatments on myself, family members and patients.”

Dr. Tom Hennessy, an epidemiologist at the University of Alaska Anchorage, told the board he filed a complaint asking the panel to investigate a physician prescribing “off-label, unproven” COVID-19 treatments. He declined to identify the physician after the meeting.

Hennessy asked the board to issue a warning to all providers to stop using treatments such as ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine, given mounting evidence these medicines are causing harm or might encourage patients to forgo proven treatments such as monoclonal antibodies.

Doctors can request their patients be enrolled in clinical trials underway for COVID-19 treatments including ivermectin if they want to see whether it’s effective, he said. “Stop experimenting on Alaskan patients,” he said.

Anchorage hospitalist Stacey Maddox testified Friday during a shift where she was treating several very sick COVID-19 patients.

Maddox said she hears misinformation from patients every day.

“I’ve had a patient tell me I was a murderer and trying to murder them,” she said. “Someone said ‘F doctors’ to me ... I really support investigating physicians who are engaged in spreading this misinformation and I hope that’s what the board will do.”

A number of medical providers and members of the public who back the use of ivermectin and other “early treatment” remedies testified against any sanctions Friday.

Among them: Farr’s sister, state Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, an outspoken opponent of masking and vaccines who emphasized her own use of ivermectin after contracting COVID-19 last month.

Rep. Ken McCarty, R-Chugiak-Eagle River, also testified in support of allowing treatments like ivermectin. So did David Morgan, Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s appointed health department director who resigned in August after coming under intense scrutiny from Anchorage Assembly members over his qualifications and comments about the pandemic.

Anchorage resident Marti Deruelle testified that she survived COVID-19 but her husband, Bruce, did not after being hospitalized with the virus. Deruelle blamed the hospital’s refusal to administer treatments like ivermectin.

“I got the treatment and I’m here today thanks to Dr. Farr,” she said

Alaska is the latest state to field requests from the public and the medical community to to discipline medical professionals who spread misinformation or disinformation during the global pandemic.

The Federation of State Medical Boards has said physicians who spread COVID-19 misinformation risk jeopardizing their medical license or facing other disciplinary actions from state medical boards, adding that sharing inaccurate vaccine information “threatens to further erode public trust in the medical profession and puts all patients at risk.”

In Washington, a physician assistant had his license suspended after more than a dozen complaints were filed against him for prescribing ivermectin to patients as a COVID-19 treatment.

In Oregon, Dr. Steven Arthur LaTulippe had his license revoked in September after he disregarded COVID-19 mandates, told his patients that masks don’t work and over-prescribed opioids, The Oregonian reported.

In San Francisco, Dr. Thomas Cowan voluntarily surrendered his medical license to California’s medical board more than a year after he claimed in a viral online video that 5G technology caused COVID-19, according to reporting by Cal Matters.

In some cases, state medical boards have found no grounds for disciplinary action in similar cases.

In Idaho, the state’s medical board opted not penalize Dr. Ryan Cole, one of the speakers at the recent Alaska event, following a complaint filed in the summer by Idaho 97 Project Executive Director Mike Satz that referenced the Federation of State Medical Board’s position that spreading false information may be cause for discipline.

According to reporting by the Idaho Capital Sun, the board responded by saying that no state laws or statutes “provide a basis for the Board to discipline licensees for statements made during a conference, to the media, or in any other public setting.”

Alaska statute allows the medical board to sanction a doctor only if the board finds, after a hearing, that a licensee has demonstrated “professional incompetence, gross negligence, or repeated negligent conduct.”

“The board may not base a finding of professional incompetence solely on the basis that a licensee’s practice is unconventional or experimental in the absence of demonstrable physical harm to a patient,” statute says.

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