Longtime Faith doctor Fink retired after disciplinary order from state

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 21, 2019

FAITH — In late June, Rowan Diagnostic Clinic informed its patients that Dr. Gary Fink would retire at the end of the month.

“(Rowan Diagnostic Clinic) will miss Dr. Fink and greatly appreciates his efforts, the concern he had for his many patients and the care he has provided to them during his three years with us,” the clinic posted on its website.

For Fink, it would be the end of a three-decade-long career serving patients in Faith. He had worked for Rowan Diagnostic Clinic since 2016, but practiced in Faith long before that. He told the Post in 1995 that he had no plans to move from Faith and he would stay true to that statement. He never practiced medicine anywhere other than his hometown.

But his retirement came days after a disciplinary order from the N.C. Medical Board, which indefinitely suspended his license, effective June 30. That ruling came as a result of failing to submit himself for a comprehensive examination and a failure to respond to inquiries, the June 21 ruling stated. In Nov. 2017 and after facing previous questions from the N.C. Medical Board, an independent expert reviewed records for three of Fink’s patients and found that treatment and records were below “the standards of accepted and prevailing medical practice” in N.C., which resulted in the examination request.

While attempts by the Post to reach Fink were not successful by deadline Saturday, he said repeatedly during an N.C. Medical Board hearing the only reason he didn’t comply was because of his declining health. Fink said he intended to comply.

Rowan Diagnostic Clinic CEO Paul Verhaeghe provided a written statement that said the company does not believe the suspension, which is less severe than a revocation, is related to opioid prescribing practices.

“Much has been made that Dr. Fink’s suspension was the result of opioid prescribing,” Verhaeghe said. “We do not believe that is the case.”

Since the 2017 passage of the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention Act, the clinic has maintained an internal pain management clinic for its patients. That internal clinic carefully monitors prescriptions to and usage of pain medicine by patients, including Fink’s.

“Dr. Fink embraced the pain clinic and complied with the referral process,” Verhaeghe said.

‘It’s home’

In 1985, Fink would be the first doctor based in Faith in more than 15 years. A Faith native and a third-year resident at Charlotte Memorial Hospital, Fink told the Post in August 1985 that he always wanted to return to his hometown and open a practice.

He was valedictorian of his graduating class at East Rowan High School and would continue his studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Before entering medical school, also at UNC Chapel Hill, he worked in the emergency room at the then-Rowan Memorial Hospital.

In August 1985, he had already bought a house that formerly belonged to his great-grandmother and planned to open a practice in Faith.

“I guess the most appealing thing about it is that it’s home, said Fink, then 29. “I’ve always wanted to do it.”

His office would officially open in July 1986.

Among other things, he served on the Faith Board of Aldermen, as president and on the board of Rowan Regional Medical Center, on the board for the hospital’s foundation, as a member of the Faith Volunteer Fire Department and as medical examiner for Rowan County.

And in 1995, still years from Fink’s retirement, Faith would hold a reception to honor its hometown doctor.

“This is just a genuine thank you,” said then-Mayor Tim Williams. “In a small town, you expect a lot from people sometimes. You are easily burned out, and I hope that is something that doesn’t happen to Gary.”

Three separate prescriptions

Fink first came to the attention of the N.C. Medical Board in 2015, when a patient was charged with obtaining a controlled substance by false pretenses. James Bowman, an investigator for the N.C. Medical Board, testified during a December hearing that the State Bureau of Investigation contacted the board in June 2015 about the case, which was later discovered to be a misunderstanding involving the man charged. The charges against Fink’s patient were dropped.

“They determined that (the man) was a patient of Dr. Fink and that he had been prescribed some fairly significant amounts of controlled substances, to the point that the bureau felt that the board should be notified,” Bowman said, according to the hearing transcript. “ … In a 30-day period, Dr. Fink had prescribed … three prescriptions for 180 dosage units of oxycodone 15 milligram tablets between March 10 and April 7, 2015. There were three separate prescriptions.”

As a result of that 2015 case, the N.C. Medical board required Fink to complete 12 total hours of educational courses focused on proper prescribing of controlled substances, according to the hearing transcript. Fink completed the courses.

As a follow-up in October 2016, the N.C. Medical Board asked an independent medical expert to review records for three of Fink’s patients, and the expert found care for two patients was within standard practices. One was below standard practices.

Fink also appeared before a panel in March 2017 for an “investigative interview.” The result was a private letter of concern about his prescription practices.

The board again reviewed three patient records in Nov. 2017, finding that all three were below standard of accepted practices.

And while Fink confirmed receipt of an “order for examination” connected to the 2017 review, he did not comply. The recent ruling suspending Fink’s license notes that he received the order Feb. 2, 2018, and acknowledged receipt April 5, 2018.

In September, the N.C. Medical Board scheduled a hearing for December about its ongoing concerns.

Intend to comply

Asked about his prescribing practices during the December hearing, Fink said he wrote prescriptions for pain medicine on a “very limited basis,” usually five days at the most. Fink said he saw anywhere from 16 to 25 patients on an average day and that he worked Monday through Friday — 40 to 50 hours per week.

Addressing concern about his slow replies to the N.C. Medical Board, Fink said mail addressed to him is usually sent to the Salisbury office of Rowan Diagnostic Clinic and brought to the Faith office by a courier later.

“I probably received it, just as a rough guess, at least a week later,” Fink said, according to the hearing transcript.

Fink said he attempted to comply with the state board’s order but started experiencing health problems at about the same time as he received it— in February 2018. Fink said he had surgery for the medical issues in April 2018 and was advised by a doctor to stay out of work for three months.

“He told me on June the 4th that I could go back if I wanted to, at half days, and I elected to do that and, unfortunately, that was my first mistake,” Fink said, noting that he experienced more problems following his return to work.

Asked in the December hearing, Fink said, “I am in the process of complying, intend to comply and that my only reason for not complying was for medical reasons,”

Still, the N.C. Medical Board issued an order in January suspending Fink’s medical license, but immediately staying the ruling as long as he completed a comprehensive assessment within 90 days at a location approved in advance.

Fink did not comply with the January order, resulting in the board implementing the indefinite suspension in June, according to N.C. Medical Board documents.

Future in Faith

In his statement to the Post, Verhaeghe said Fink determined it was in his best interest to retire because of his declining health over the previous two years.

He said Rowan Diagnostic Clinic, despite asking, was not privy to specific details of Fink’s case as it was discussed by the N.C. Medical Board. The company saw Fink’s disciplinary order for the first time on June 24, he said. The N.C. Medical Board told Rowan Diagnostic Clinic “they do not share any information in order to protect a doctor’s employment when a pending matter is under investigation,” Verhaeghe said.

Despite Fink’s retirement, Rowan Diagnostic Clinic’s office has not closed and has moved new medical staff to the facility.

Verhaeghe said the company transferred a physician assistant, Lauren Lyerly, to Faith from its Salisbury office and that Dr. Doug Shellhorn, a senior internist and shareholder of Rowan Diagnostic Clinic, will oversee medical care at the Faith office.

Contact editor Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4248.