- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Linda Hitchcock’s life already was in flux when she moved from Baltimore to La Plata to care for her aging, ailing parents. She expected some hardship in the transition but had no way of knowing her choice of doctors would provide her with even more.
Hitchcock is not alone. She was a patient of Dr. James Irvin Harring, a general care practitioner in La Plata who had his license suspended Jan. 15 following an investigation by the Maryland State Board of Physicians that found the doctor guilty of sexual misconduct toward patients and staff, along with misconduct when prescribing narcotics.
Harring was the sole practitioner at Potomac Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. The practice has been shuttered since Harring’s suspension was announced.
Hitchcock, at the time, was enrolled in Maryland’s Primary Adult Care Program, which provides low-cost health insurance for low-income adults. Hitchcock said there was a limited amount of doctors willing to accept this as a form of insurance, and Harring was one of them, so she decided to see him.
She described her first experience in his office as “pretty normal and straightforward,” but said things quickly became atypical.
“This gentleman would ask me to lunch. He would ask me about my love life,” Hitchcock said. “I’ve never had a doctor say things of that nature before.”
On visits to his office, Hitchcock said it was fairly typical to wait two or three hours to be seen. Despite how he related to her and the wait time, Hitchcock said she didn’t think anything was amiss until she had issues getting prescriptions he wrote for her filled.
“It totally weirded me out. When they started not filling my prescriptions, I knew something was really off,” Hitchcock said.
For several months, Hitchcock said she was at a loss as to how to get her necessary prescriptions filled. She went to an urgent care facility but was only able to get one prescription filled. State agencies, she said, were of no assistance.
Since then, after a long string of difficulties, Hitchcock said she has finally found a primary care doctor, whom she described as “a lady I absolutely adore.”
“At that time nobody seemed to care,” Hitchcock said. “I thought I had no other choice, but I see now that I do. ... It was a horrible situation.”
Beverly Lahman of La Plata and her husband, also patients of Harring, had a couple of refills left on their prescriptions when the doctor lost his license, and they were told they could not be filled. There is a lengthy wait for them to see a new primary care physician, Lahman said, and the state was of little help. Lahman said she was told to go to an urgent care facility but that only certain prescriptions of theirs could be filled that way.
Although Lahman said they were fortunate enough to find a way to get their medications filled, she said she still is concerned for what might be happening with other patients forced into these situations.
“I asked for this to be checked into because I believe there should be some sort of stopgap in place when a physician loses their license,” Lahman said. “The state board told me that Harring should have taken care of this, but he didn’t, and oh well. In these situations people are just left without a solution.”
Like Hitchcock, Lahman said her issues getting prescriptions filled began before Harring officially had his license suspended. Despite that, throughout five years of seeing him, Lahman said she never really had any other problems.
The Maryland Attorney General Health Education and Advocacy Unit’s website did not offer any solutions. Unit Director Kim Cammarata said there is not much that can be done.
“The best advice we could give ... is to find another practitioner, but we know that’s not always easy,” Cammarata said. “Patients can call the physician’s board if they need their records, and my understanding is they would likely direct the patient to the doctor’s attorney, but aside from that we really don’t have any advice about the prescriptions.”
Charles County Department of Health spokesman William Leebel offered similar advice.
“If the prescription is needed immediately, residents should go to an urgent care center and take their prescription bottle with them to show the clinician at the center. However, this is only a temporary solution,” Leebel said. “Residents are urged to find a new primary care physician, mental health or pain management clinician to continue their medical care.”