La Plata doctor suspended after sex, drug misconduct — (The Maryland Gazette)

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The Maryland Gazette

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

by Lindsay Renner Staff writer 

Lewd remarks, overprescribing narcotics cited

A La Plata doctor’s license has been suspended for a minimum of three months following findings of sexual misconduct and poor practices when it came to prescribing medicine to patients.

Dr. James Irvin Harring, the practitioner at Potomac Internal Medicine and Pediatrics on Centennial Street, had his license temporarily revoked Jan. 15 following a series of reviews by the Maryland State Board of Physicians.

A consent order from the board lists Harring’s specializations as pediatrics and internal medicine. An online profile for him also lists obstetrics and gynecology, along with general care.

Former employees of Harring filed two complaints in 2011 alleging that he had made inappropriate sexual comments toward both patients and staff members at the practice, according to the consent order. The order states an investigation into the two claims commenced in December 2011 for the first one and February 2012 for the second. A third complaint in 2012, from the mother of one of Harring’s patients, said he had overprescribed the anti-anxiety medicine Xanax to her daughter, a heroin addict, the order states. After looking into the records of 12 of Harring’s patients, the board opened a third investigation in October 2012 in regard to a breach in the standard of care. A fourth complaint from November that year alleged that four of his patients were sent to hospital emergency rooms suffering from drug overdoses, the order states.

One employee alleged that “she had received multiple patient complaints alleging [Harring] had asked inappropriate questions of a sexual nature, and that he had rendered deficient care,” according to the consent order. The order also states he made explicit comments to staff members at the practice.

Another employee recalled a 2008 incident when, while bent over at a desk placing papers down, Harring came up behind her and “grabbed her buttocks,” saying he had mistaken her for his girlfriend. The same employee also heard complaints similar to those of the first one.

A third employee and one-time girlfriend of Harring’s said in 2009 while in an employees-only area of the practice, she and another employee were discussing something sexual, and Harring told her to stop. When she did not, Harring punched her in the arm, according to the consent order. This resulted in a restraining order against him.

Harring told another employee that her 16-year-old daughter was “beautiful” and told other employees the same of the girl, according to the consent order. Harring also asked the girl’s mother if her daughter was on birth control “because every man that looks at her wants to have sex with her.”

Two patients also alleged Harring made sexual comments toward them during their visits.

During his interview Harring failed to mention the restraining order and instead said a judge “dropped” assault charges against him, according to the order. When asked about his comments toward the daughter of the one employee, Harring said he could “see me saying she’s beautiful.”

The order states Harring prescribed a patient Zoloft and Xanax for anxiety. He abruptly changed her Zoloft prescription to Prozac without adequately documenting his rationale for the switch. He continued to prescribe her Prozac without doing so.

For a second patient, one with a past heroin addiction, Harring prescribed Percocet, Xanax and methadone, the latter of which was prescribed despite her being on suboxone to detoxify from heroin. He continued prescribing her opiates and did not adequately monitor her blood or urine samples to check for signs of abuse, the order states.

A third patient received a prescription for Percocet for back pain. Harring, according to the consent order, never advised him of any nonpharmaceutical alternatives for back pain relief and again did not monitor blood and urine samples for signs of drug abuse.

One patient of Harring’s, with a history of diabetes, did not have that condition taken into consideration when Harring prescribed him oxycodone and Xanax. He saw this patient every 10 days despite initially telling him a monthly appointment was all that would be needed. Again, Harring did not monitor him for signs of abuse. The patient ultimately died after overdosing on oxycodone and Xanax, the order states.

For all patients, the order states, Harring did an inadequate job of screening their blood and urine and failed to provide a rationale for his prescription decisions.

Patients who wrote reviews of Harring’s practice online frequently complained about long waits to be seen in the office. One reviewer described Harring as “the worst doctor you could possibly see,” and said “at the end you go home as a pill box because he gives you more medications than you actually need.” Others complained of him “openly leering” at attractive female patients in the office and generally being uncomfortable around Harring.

Few positive reviews were given. One said although the reviewer found Harring “a little odd,” they hadn’t had “any major issues with him or staff” and would keep seeing him. Another patient reviewer also said the issues they have are relatively minor and went on to say they had never “seen or heard of any abuse or sexual issues or strange questions” while being treated there.

As per his suspension, Harring is required to be evaluated by the Maryland Professional Rehabilitation Program. He also will have to take a course on medical ethics, focused primarily on issues of his boundaries.

A number listed online for Harring’s practice went straight to voicemail and had a full mailbox, preventing leaving a message. A number listed for Harring at his Leonardtown home has been disconnected.