By Katie Spence
Except in nine states, medical boards act independently and have full decision-making authority regarding discipline and investigations, according to the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB).
In all but 19 states, medical board members are appointed by the state’s governor and don’t require additional confirmation. In states where separate confirmation is required, the Senate or legislature is responsible, according to FSMB.
In general, state medical boards drive the public health policies of their state. They also have the authority to investigate doctors and nurses if complaints against are lodged and can strip them of their medical license.
Consequently, according to lawyers representing doctors facing medical board investigations, many doctors and nurses are being targeted by their boards for advocating for alternative medications during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There have been a lot of medical boards harassing physicians over ivermectin, also hydroxychloroquine. Also, some of their public statements against mask mandates and questioning the vaccine,” Andrew Schlafly, a lawyer who’s filed several lawsuits on behalf of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, told The Epoch Times.
“These medical boards, they’re not respecting First Amendment rights, not respecting the patient-physician relationship. They’ve basically been pushing the agenda of the pharmaceutical companies and the opponents of early treatment with inexpensive medications—ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, inexpensive medications known for decades to be safe.”
Beth Chambers, an attorney in Colorado representing several doctors and healthcare providers facing investigation by the Colorado state medical board, concurred. She said that on March 26, 2020, right after COVID-19 started to surge in the United States, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies released draft guidance for COVID-19 prescribing on behalf of several medical-related state boards. The guidance had first been disseminated by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
Among other guidance, it states that healthcare professionals need to “be cognizant” that hydroxychloroquine is “not the standard of care” for COVID-19, and that pharmacists “should verify and document diagnosis with the prescriber” when they see a prescription for hydroxychloroquine. It adds that such measures should be taken for “other COVID-19 investigative medications.”
The directive further states, “Please note that the Colorado State Board of Pharmacy, the Colorado Medical Board, and the Colorado Nursing Board have the authority to discipline their corresponding licensees who fail to meet their corresponding generally accepted standards of practice.”
Chambers said the guidance was a threat.
“They basically threatened providers at that point and said that your medical license could come under review, because there’s no standard of care for COVID,” she told The Epoch Times.
“Well, if there’s no standard of care for COVID because it’s an emergency, why are doctors already having their hands tied, and other providers having their hands tied, in this way?”
Despite approving ivermectin as a safe and effective anti-parasitic drug for humans in 1996, on April 10, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement that said, “Ivermectin is FDA-approved for use in animals for prevention of heartworm disease in some small animal species, and for treatment of certain internal and external parasites in various animal species.”
The directive had the desired result, and complaints against healthcare providers prescribing hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin for COVID-19 began rolling in.
Notably, Chambers said, almost every complaint was filed by another doctor or pharmacist. And it wasn’t because they witnessed harm to the patient.
“What happened is a patient may have a primary care doctor and then seek an opinion in some other specialized area. And the primary care doctor will send their chart over, and the chart will show ivermectin for prophylactic COVID-19. And that doctor will file a complaint with the medical board,” Chambers said.
“The patient hasn’t made a complaint. I’ve never seen a case, actually to date, where a patient has complained to the medical board that ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine damaged them.”
According to Chambers, in cases where a doctor didn’t file the complaint, the complaints usually came from an ex-employer or someone who heard a healthcare provider publicly back ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine.
“I’ve seen where somebody might speak on a podcast, and then somebody in Arizona will make a complaint with the Colorado medical boards saying that the provider is ‘medically dangerous,’” Chambers said. “I’ve seen that phrase a lot.”
Schlafly confirmed Chambers’ account and added that neither the FSMB nor the FDA has “any real authority” over how doctors and nurses practice medicine. But they can pressure state boards.
“State medical boards do have authority,” Schlafly said.”And so, these other entities have been pushing state medical boards to retaliate. And trolls on the internet—who have filed complaints just by trolling the internet and finding doctors who’ve spoken out—these trolls file complaints with medical boards, and medical boards are improperly acting on their complaints.”
Schlafly added that state medical boards have discretion over complaint investigations and can either dismiss them or pursue an investigation. “The complaint’s not by the patient. Medical boards should just dismiss the complaint and not bother the physician with it, but state medical boards are harassing physicians over this,” Schlafly said.
Chambers said that when the medical board receives a complaint in Colorado, it sends the provider a “30-day letter” asking for a response. Once the provider responds, the medical board can choose to drop the issue or continue to pursue the investigation. Once a medical board decides to pursue an investigation against a healthcare provider, is has absolute power, Chambers said.
In every single case where the complaint involved ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, or COVID-19 vaccines, Chambers said the Colorado medical board issued an “amended supplemental request,” and started asking “targeted questions.”
“At the administrative level, they do not have to go to a court. They don’t need anybody to give them the permission to do it. The medical board themselves can issue a subpoena to produce documents—it’s always [for] patient records. What they’ll usually say is, ‘Can we have the complete medical history of every patient that you prescribe ivermectin, either for active COVID or prophylactic COVID,” Chambers said.
And that’s when the true investigation starts.
On Feb. 1, 2022, Dr. Yusuf Saleeby, a medical doctor in South Carolina with over 30 years of experience, received a letter from South Carolina’s medical board detailing that it’d received a complaint that he prescribed ivermectin to one of his patients. The board stated it was opening an investigation.
On Feb. 11, 2022, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson released a statement saying doctors in his state have the authority to treat COVID-19 by prescribing “off-label” drugs. Off-label prescribing is a legal and widespread practice among doctors.
“Our doctors, as well as their patients, need to know that doctors have the right to make important medical decisions, as long as they have the informed consent of their patients. In fighting COVID, the doctor should be given the broadest possible leeway,” Wilson stated.
On Feb. 16, 2022, Saleeby received an update from the South Carolina state medical board, amending the charge by saying that instead of investigating Saleeby for prescribing ivermectin, the investigation was due to his alleged failure to obtain “informed consent” from his patient.
Saleeby said “obviously” the person who filed the original complaint didn’t suddenly file the second one after the attorney general’s statement.
“The board did. It’s politically motivated. They want to come after me one way or the other,” Saleeby told The Epoch Times.
He called the amended charge of failing to obtain informed consent “ludicrous.”
“My attorney drafted an eloquent three-page letter explaining our position and how this is ludicrous, and I had two recorded informed consents on my SOAP notes and in my charting,” Saleeby said. SOAP stands for “subjective, objective, assessment, and plan” and is a structured way for clinicians to document patient encounters.
Despite the explanation, the investigation continued until it finally came to a head on January 23 this year when, in an informal meeting, the South Carolina Medical Board subcommittee recommended that the complaints against Saleeby move forward to a full formal hearing.
Outraged, Saleeby filed a formal complaint for harassment with the Office of Inspector General and reached out to a senator friend who is the chairman of the state’s oversight committee.
On Jan. 25, two days after recommending a formal hearing, the South Carolina Medical Board informed Saleeby’s attorney that they planned to drop the case.
“I haven’t gotten my formal dismissal letter yet, but that’s the word from [the board’s] attorney—that they’re not going to pursue this,” Saleeby said.
As for why the board reversed course, Saleeby hypothesized, “I think it’s because I put some pressure on them. And they knew I was going to get loud and noisy about this. And I was going to ask for a public hearing. Because once this gets out, once people see what’s going on, that they’re bullying doctors and nurses, this might come to a quicker end. … I’m going on the offensive.”
To this day, Saleeby said he doesn’t know who filed a complaint against him. He does know, however, that it wasn’t his patient. “No. My patient and I are on very good terms,” Saleeby said when asked if his patient filed the complaint. “I have no idea who filed this complaint.”
Saleeby noted that he experienced what Chambers labeled a “fishing expedition” by the state medical board.
“They did subpoena the medical records on this particular patient,” Saleeby said. “And we have the entire, not just related to the incident SOAP note, but also all the informed consents, the waivers—they requested a lot of stuff. We sent them everything they requested.”
Saleeby said the files included the details his nurse discusses with patients. “My nurse, when she did the triage, always discusses supplements and medications with patients. Side effects and all that stuff.
“And then there was a general informed consent on the general waiver that says …we don’t adhere to practice guidelines. We’re outside of mainstream medicine. We do things different. It’s all outlined. I mean, I had three lawyers look at that waiver when I had it designed. So the board’s investigator sort of neglected all that.”
Saleeby said he’s only had the one complaint filed against him, but a fellow practitioner in Alabama told him that he had 22 complaints filed against him during the pandemic.
“I just can’t imagine the financials of that,” Saleeby said. “I haven’t gotten my final attorney bill, but I bet it’s in the tens of thousands of dollars to defend myself. If I had to do that 22 times, it’s a kind of attrition.
“The medical boards try to beat you down because they have a lot more funding than I do for legal stuff. So, you know, they’re trying to threaten and intimidate doctors to basically sit down and shut up and do the practice guidelines and be part of the narrative. Recommend boosters for everybody. I’m not. I can’t ethically stand by and do that,” Saleeby said.
He noted concern over the board’s ability to remove his license following complaint investigations. “I have six nurse practitioners and PAs [physician’s assistants] that work under my license. So if anything were to happen to my license and my ability to practice, it would affect 10 employees and six independent contractor nurse practitioners and their families. I mean, it’s a domino effect. It would be devastating financially for everybody.”
In response to The Epoch Times’ request for comment, the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners stated via email, “State law prohibits the Board from saying whether a licensee is being investigated.”
Submit or Else
What Saleeby experienced is typical of many state medical boards’ behavior across the country, Schlafly said.
“Medical boards know that if they discipline a physician based solely on ivermectin, that may cause political problems,” Schlafly said. Some state legislators are proponents of patients having access to ivermectin.
“So, what medical boards do instead is find the target physician who prescribes ivermectin, and they look for some other basis to discipline their physician,” Schlafly said.
“So, they go on a fishing expedition, and they’ll try to find some other graph to discipline that physician. And the real reason is they’re retaliating against the physician for using ivermectin.”
Chambers agrees. “If you’re turning over the complete medical history of patients, there’s probably going to be other places where you didn’t dot all your I’s and cross all your T’s. That’s the nature of human record-keeping.
“The doctors that I’ve spoken to that have received a formal admonishment, or a charge, usually it’s because they found something in the record that is different than the reason they even asked for the records. So, the complaint comes in on ivermectin, but maybe they find that you have not done your due diligence on fibroids prescribing or something else. It’s something completely different than ivermectin.”
According to Schlafly, medical board targeting varies between states. In states where the governor has taken a more active approach to regulate the board’s power, such as in Florida, medical boards are “okay.” But the chilling effect is pervasive in states such as Colorado, Oregon, California, and others.
As to why medical boards are taking such a hardline stance against doctors who prescribe ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, Schlafly alleged that the boards’ targeting is ultimately being directed by “a handful of bureaucrats and people who are connected to Big Pharma, and people who have a certain mindset about vaccination and masks.”
“People forget, but a year ago, President Joe Biden ordered basically all employers having more than 100 employees to vaccinate all their employees. That was one thing. He ordered all government workers to be vaccinated. He ordered all government contractors to be vaccinated. And he ordered everyone in the military to be vaccinated. So, it’s that kind of a mindset, which is one of command and control.”
On July 12, 2022, Schlafly, on behalf of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons Educational Foundation, filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration and medical specialty boards, claiming violations of the “First Amendment right to freedom of speech,” among other charges.
Schlafly detailed in the suit that the foundation co-sponsored a medical conference in which numerous physicians spoke. After the conference, the presenters received letters from medical boards “threatening revocation of their earned board certifications for statements they made or repeated at these conferences.”
“Defendants wrongly misuse their authority in a politically partisan manner to chill speech critical of positions taken by Dr. Anthony Fauci, lockdowns, mask mandates, Covid vaccines and even abortion. Defendants have acted in an apparently coordinated manner, using similar timing and terminology, to censor those who exercise their First Amendment rights on issues of public concern,” the suit alleged.
It’s one of many suits brought by Schlafly to fight for medical freedom and doctors’ and nurses’ rights.