FORT KENT, Maine — A physician deemed a danger to patients this week by a state licensing board exhibited “odd behavior” while working at Northern Maine Medical Center, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
Dr. Robert K. Desai was immediately removed from caring for patients on May 7 after staff witnessed him behaving strangely, said NMMC spokeswoman Joanne Fortin. She declined to be more specific, saying the hospital notified the Maine Board of Licensure of Medicine of the incident upon Desai’s termination the same day.
The board “summarily suspended” Desai on Tuesday, prohibiting him from practicing medicine in Maine for 30 days. Such suspensions are uncommon and are reserved for cases in which patients are deemed at risk. The board said in a Tuesday press release that Desai “presented an imminent danger to his patients” and has released no further details about the circumstances surrounding his license suspension.
Desai, a radiologist, began work at the hospital on April 1 as a locum physician, or temporary contractor arranged through a staffing agency, Fortin said. Before the May 7 incident, he provided good care to patients, she said.
NMMC is conducting a full review of all of Desai’s interactions with patients, Fortin said.
“We are taking all steps necessary to ensure patients are protected and that the care they received was no less than excellent,” she said.
This appears to be the first time Desai has faced disciplinary action in practicing medicine. Physician licensing databases in both Maine and Massachusetts, where Desai has worked previously, show no prior disciplinary actions.
Desai has been informed of his license suspension in Maine, said Randal Manning, executive director of the Maine Board of Licensure in Medicine. Desai is scheduled for a hearing before the board on June 11, when board members will weigh any evidence to determine whether the suspension should be made permanent, Manning said. Desai could be allowed to return to practice, likely with some restrictions, depending on the evidence, he said.
Desai was suspended from practicing to protect patients in the meantime.
“On an occasion when this board, or any regulatory board, receives information that quite clearly describes a situation where there is imminent danger of public or patient harm, the board has the authority to take this action,” Manning said.
If Desai requests that the hearing be postponed to allow him time to prepare a response, the June 11 date would be pushed back, provided Desai agrees to continue the license suspension, he said.
Desai was hired at NMMC to fill in after the March 31 departure of Dr. Michael Nissenbaum, Fortin said. The hospital has since secured a permanent radiologist who will begin in July, and has filled the position with another temporary physician until then, she said.
“Locum tenens” physicians who work on a temporary basis aren’t uncommon, with dozens employed in Maine at any given time, said Gordon Smith, executive vice president at the Maine Medical Association. They often cover for doctors who are sick, on vacation, or otherwise unavailable, he said.
“They’re used very frequently to cover other physicians who may be gone,” Smith said.
Locum tenens physicians must meet the same educational and licensing criteria as physicians hired on a permanent basis, he said.
According to the state medical licensing database, Desai graduated from the SUNY Stony Brook School of Medicine in 1981.
His record lists a business address in Westborough, Mass. Desai has not returned voicemails seeking comment.
A faculty profile for Desai on the website of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he formerly worked, listed him as an associate professor of radiology, vice chairman of clinical operations, and interim director of body imaging and general radiology at the school.
Desai completed a residency in internal medicine at the Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Massachusetts and in diagnostic radiology at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., after his graduation from SUNY Stony Brook, according to the profile. He went on to complete a fellowship through Harvard Medical School at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
More information about Desai’s license suspension will be available upon his hearing, which is open to the public, according to the medical licensing board.