In this March 2, 2021, file photo, pharmacy technician Hollie Maloney loads a syringe with Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine at the Portland Expo in Portland. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP
A state medical board moved Tuesday to temporarily suspend the license of a doctor accused of spreading misinformation related to COVID-19. The doctor, who recently participated in a briefing with state lawmakers on COVID, will also have to undergo a psychological examination at the request of the licensing board.
During a virtual meeting, Maine’s Board of Licensure in Medicine voted unanimously to conduct a further investigation into Dr. Meryl Nass of Ellsworth in response to at least two complaints that she was spreading misinformation about COVID-19. The board also voted to subpoena additional records from Nass and approved suspending her license for 30 days during the investigation, although it also gave the doctor another option.
“We are putting into place an emergency 30-day suspension with the option of the licensee transitioning to inactive status if they would like to do that,” board member Dr. Renee Fay-Leblanc said while outlining the proposed board actions prior to the vote. The board gave her 24 hours to decide whether to drop her active to inactive status – meaning she cannot actively see patients – or the 30-day suspension will kick in.
The board never mentioned Nass by name and conducted much of its discussions in executive session because the confidentiality of both physicians and complainants are protected during initial investigations.
But the board also ordered a psychological evaluation of Nass – which is allowed under state law as part of the licensure process – and the text of that 5-page order addressed to Nass was made public.
“In the interests of public health and safety, the Board may compel a physician to submit to a mental or physical examination upon a complaint or allegation that the physician is or may be unable to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety to patients by reason of a mental illness, alcohol intemperance, excessive use of drugs, narcotics, or as a result of a mental or physical condition interfering with the competent practice of medicine,” reads the order. “By practicing medicine in this State, every physician licensed is deemed to have given consent to a mental or physical examination when directed in writing by the Board.”
Nass could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. She has practiced medicine for more than 40 years. But she wrote in a blog post over the weekend that her attorney predicted she was likely to lose her license during Tuesday’s board meeting.
Nass also has not been shy about broadcasting her criticism of the state and federal responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She is affiliated with a prominent national anti-vaccination group and often suggests COVID vaccines are not only ineffective but harmful. She called the U.S. CDC a “criminal agency” and had accused federal health officials of conspiring to suppress the use of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin to treat COVID in order to push newer, more expensive treatments.
Last month, she admitted both to Maine’s medical licensing board and to state lawmakers that she lied to a pharmacist in order to help a COVID patient secure one of those drugs.
“And so I lied and said the patient had Lyme disease, which is another legitimate reason to get this drug,” Nass said during a briefing for lawmakers that featured several doctors critical of Maine’s vaccination mandate for health care workers. “And so the pharmacist dispensed the medication only because I lied. If I had said the patient was getting it for COVID, they would not have received the drug.”
It was unclear if that disclosure was among the multiple issues the board plans to investigate. But a list of 25 questions that the board plans to send to Nass includes one asking for data to support her claim that hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin are “effective treatments” against COVID.
The board also asked for medical data to support her statement in a September blog post that COVID vaccines are quote “associated with high rates of miscarriages.”
In another question, the board asked if she offers vaccinations to patients in her office and what information she gives to patients regarding COVID vaccines. During an interview last month with Maine Public, Nass said she did not recommend or discourage vaccination but lays out the benefits and risks as she knows them.
But Nass is a vocal critic of the vaccination campaign in her blog posts. And she identifies herself as a consultant to Children’s Health Defense, a group led by Bobby Kennedy Jr. that the Associated Press has labeled as an “anti-vaccine juggernaut.”
Nass suggested during that interview with Maine Public that she welcomed the scrutiny.
“And I am very happy to discuss in any forum, in front of any board, in front of the board of licensure in Medicine how to treat a COVID patient,” she said. “I have plenty of experience.”
Nass is at least the second physician in Maine to face professional repercussions over allegedly spreading COVID misinformation. Dr. Paul Gosselin of Waterville had his license temporarily suspended by the Maine Board of Osteopathic Licensure in December after receiving complaints about misinformation. The board is also reviewing vaccine exemption letters signed by Gosselin.
That board is expected to hold a hearing on Gosselin’s case later this month. The Maine Board of Licensure in Medicine has not yet set dates for hearings on Nass but gave the doctor 30 days to respond to their lengthy list of questions.