Board files complaints against Maui health officer, physician

Both have supported COVID-19 treatments that federal agencies warn against

State Department of Health Maui District Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang answers a question after giving a COVID-19 update to more than 50 Ka Hale A Ke Ola staff and guests on April 17, 2020. The Hawaii Medical Board filed complaints against Pang and Maui physician Dr. Kirk Milhoan on Thursday after reports that both supported COVID-19 treatments that federal agencies advise against. The Mau News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The Hawaii Medical Board has filed complaints against Maui’s top health official and a Valley Isle physician following reports that they backed COVID-19 treatments that state and federal health agencies advise against.

Jayson Horiuchi, spokesperson for the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, confirmed that the board filed separate complaints against Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang and pediatric cardiologist Dr. Kirk Milhoan on Thursday with the Regulated Industries Complaints Office.

Horiuchi said that the department cannot comment on open investigations, though the board’s executive director pointed to a recent statement by the Federation of State Medical Boards warning that physicians who spread misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine could put their medical license at risk.

“The Hawaii Medical Board takes all concerns seriously and feels strongly about COVID-19 related issues given the gravity of the pandemic,” Ahlani Quiogue said. “Licensed physicians have an ethical and professional responsibility to practice medicine in the best interest of their patients. Thus, providing misinformation may jeopardize their license.”

Pang has faced public backlash in the wake of a Honolulu Star-Advertiser report that said he is the co-founder of the Pono Coalition for Informed Consent and has expressed support for treating COVID-19 with hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, two drugs that both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have urged residents not to take to treat the virus.

Hydroxychloroquine is an arthritis medication also used to prevent malaria, and the FDA has warned against using it to treat COVID-19 due to complications for patients that include serious heart rhythm problems. Ivermectin is a drug used to remove parasites in both humans and animals, but federal health officials have expressed concerns over people taking products meant for animals and in far-too-large doses that could prove dangerous.

Milhoan, who also supports the use of the drugs for early treatment, participated in a panel discussion with Pang and Merlyn Travis, co-founder and executive director of the Pono Coalition, which says it “advocates for true informed consent before taking the experimental COVID-19 vaccines” but has come under fire from the state Department of Health and Gov. David Ige, who said that the group is “spreading misinformation about the severity of COVID-19 and the safety of the lifesaving vaccines.”

Pang emphasized in a statement on Thursday that he remains firmly pro-vaccine and helped start the group as a way to generate civil discussion about COVID-19. He also endorsed standard treatments for COVID-19, including oxygen, steroids and monoclonal antibodies.

“Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine are medications approved for other diseases,” Pang said. “There are clinical trials evaluating the use of these medications for COVID. I agree with the FDA that hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin could of course prove harmful.”

In response to the board’s complaint, Pang said Friday that he had been advised not to discuss the issue until further notice.

Some state lawmakers, including West and South Maui Sen. Roz Baker, Senate President Ron Kouchi and House Speaker Scott Saiki, have called for Gov. David Ige to remove Pang, saying that his role with the Pono Coalition undermines his position with the state and the Department of Health’s overall message about COVID-19 and vaccinations.

Neither Ige nor the department has said how they plan to respond to lawmakers’ request, though both urged vaccination and spoke firmly against the use of both drugs.

Milhoan, who runs the For Hearts and Souls free clinic and is also the senior pastor at Calvary Chapel South Maui, also said that he supports treatments like steroids and monoclonal antibodies but that he was looking for early treatments to keep people out of the hospital.

“I understand I’m going to be investigated. I thought this might happen,” Milhoan said Friday. “Usually people who suggest early treatment come under some type of scrutiny for what they’re doing. I’m not anti-vaxxer. I’m pro-vaccine. I’m not asking people not to get vaccinated. All I’m trying to do is, I see people who are infected, now what do I do? It’s too late (at that point) to say, ‘Go get vaccinated.’ “

Milhoan said he has cared for about 90 COVID-19 patients on Maui and has not prescribed hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin to all of them, saying it depends on what stage he treats them.

“I’m seeing people in the very throes of this disease,” Milhoan said. “I’m really concerned about what’s going on at the hospital. They’re overloaded. I’m trying to see people at their homes, evaluate them, evaluate their lung system, evaluate their oxygenation system and keep them out of the hospital. And I know I’ve been able to keep many people out of the hospital.”

He said his doctor had put him on hydroxychloroquine for a year as a preventative measure, and that he took it more frequently when he actually came down with COVID-19. While Milhoan said he is pro-vaccine and has been inoculated against a wide range of diseases because of his time in the military, he said he did not take the COVID-19 vaccine because he has immunity after recovering from the virus.

As for the medical board’s next move, Quiogue said “action cannot be taken against the licensee without due process” and that both complaints will be looked into.

“Actionable complaints are investigated by the Regulated Industries Complaints Office (RICO) and if allegations of wrongdoing and/or professional misconduct are supported by sufficient evidence, RICO can seek enforcement action through settlement or a contested-case hearing and then the licensing board may impose disciplinary action up to and including revocation of a license,” Quiogue explained.

“Lesser discipline includes suspension, censure or reprimand, limiting the scope of practice, requiring education or training, imposing other conditions suited to the case, and fines of up to $5,000 per violation plus the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.”

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.


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