Throughout the pandemic, a negative COVID-19 test brought much-needed relief, but what if the test wasn’t accurate?
Dr. Michael LaPaglia, 49, has been accused of using the wrong test to clear patients of the novel coronavirus and creating false medical records to support their diagnoses. His actions may have helped fuel the spread of the virus in his hometown in Tennessee.
According to allegations filed with the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, LaPaglia used antibody tests not capable of detecting current infections to clear two patients of infection during the pandemic. He used a rapid blood test kit that can only detect antibodies from previous infections.
Regulators say LaPaglia “knew or should have known” the tests were not designed to check for current infections as he claimed.
Records show the tests were performed in November and December of 2020. LaPaglia was operating a concierge medical company called Elite HealthCare at the time. The company performed in-home coronavirus testing.
Both patients said the results showed they didn’t have COVID-19 after LaPaglia tested them. According to court documents, the doctor didn’t wear any gloves or a face mask while testing them. He also didn’t perform the necessary physical exams, including taking their temperature.
After the tests, LaPaglia falsified medical records to include information he didn’t obtain during the visit, including the patients’ pulse rates and body temperatures. One of the patients also complained that LaPaglia smelled of marijuana.
The doctor was on parole at the time. His parole officer asked him to report for a drug screening in December 2020. To get out of the test, he told the officer that he had contracted COVID-19 but failed to show the test results.
LaPaglia was asked in January 2021 to take a COVID-19 test. He claimed he received a positive test from a clinic in Jacksboro, Tennessee, but the clinic says it has no record of LaPaglia ever getting tested there. Court documents show that he later admitted to falsifying the test and admitted he never had COVID-19.
A Pattern of Deceit
This isn’t the first time LaPaglia has been disciplined by the board. He admitted to writing fraudulent opioid prescriptions back in 2018. His license was suspended before being reinstated in 2019.
The FBI and Department of Health and Human Services say LaPaglia would meet patients at his home and in parking lots, where he would sell them controlled substances, including Suboxone, Clonazepam, diazepam and Pregabalin, that were prescribed using another doctor’s name. The patients would usually pay $300 per monthly visit. They would then get their prescriptions filled at the local pharmacy.
For his role, LaPaglia was sentenced to 18 months in prison. He was also ordered to pay restitution to healthcare providers and patients affected in the case.
“Tennessee remains at the epicenter of the opioid crisis. Opioid abuse destroys lives and devastates families. It is extremely disappointing when caregivers allow greed and selfishness to violate their oath to help those in need. The FBI, along with our federal, state, and local partners, will continue to investigate and hold those accountable to face the consequences of their actions,” said FBI agent Joseph E. Carrico when the charges came down.
If the board discovers that these latest allegations are true, LaPaglia could permanently lose his medical license for administering the wrong test and falsifying medical records. Whether he knew he was using the wrong test or not, he put his patients and neighbors at risk by spreading a false sense of security.