Has one prestigious pediatrician been keeping a well-buried secret in Atlanta?
It certainly appears so, although it’s possible 61-year-old Dr. Norman Ross Harbaugh Jr. did so in order to protect his career, since the stigma associated with certain criminal offenses such as Driving Under the Influence ((DUI) would remain on his record forever under Georgia law.
Search the records of Harbaugh, President and Managing Partner of Children’s Medical Group, and you’ll find plenty of information – all great stuff – about his work as a pediatrician and the many prestigious facilities where he has been employed.
Despite DUI arrests being a matter of public record in Georgia, what you won’t find is much regarding a DUI charge that happened in 2017 in Gwinnett County, which has one county separating it from Atlanta. You also won’t find any record of the DUI being reported to the Georgia Composite Medical Board, a mandatory action.
Generally, in an effort to gain leniency by using their position as power, a physician will tell the officer making the stop that he or she “is a doctor,” which usually leads the arresting officer to report the incident to the medical board.
Either the latter never happened – perhaps the officer was new to the rules regarding physicians with DUIs and failed to inform the medical board – or the good doctor, also known as “Chip,” is proficient at having his records scrubbed.
Many doctors drive under the influence
Harbaugh is hardly alone. Studies suggest that at the time of a first DUI, many drivers have already driven under the influence many more times, but weren’t pulled over or did not crash. Experts suggest that most people who consume alcohol or drugs drive at least once while under the influence, but the California-based rehab facility Centers for Professional Recovery at Seasons in Malibu estimates that drivers are behind the wheel 100 times before they get caught.
There is no way of knowing how many times Harbaugh drove drunk before he was pulled over, but at least 50 percent of all doctors allegedly use drugs or alcohol, experts say, with alcohol reigning as their drug of choice.
Alarmingly, while the general population – and both student and resident doctors – reduce their alcohol intake as they age, physicians over 40 tend to drink more, according to the 1993 study “Substance use and addiction among medical students, residents, and physicians,” which appeared in the journal Psychiatric Clinics of North America, suggesting that more doctors might be behind the wheel under the influence as they grow older, when reflexes may not be as quick as they once were.
According to the American Addiction Centers, 12.9 percent of male physicians and 21.9 percent of female physicians abuse alcohol, much higher rates than the 6.2 percent of the overall U.S. population aged 18 years or older. Stress, burnout, dealing with the death of patients, and job dissatisfaction, among other things, are the leading causes that drive doctors to drink. The pandemic, now stretching into its second year, has also elevated alcohol intact for doctors, especially so those 40 and above.
Based on the statistics, it certainly would appear that Harbaugh’s drinking – recreational or not – finally caught up with him.
On May 6 of 2017, Harbaugh was stopped after driving over a gore or paved shoulder – a gore is the space between an interstate and an exit ramp – and was not only charged with that particular moving violation but also with a DUI thanks to blood alcohol levels of more than .10 percent.
With a blood alcohol level that high, Harbaugh’s physical impairment would have been obvious. His speech may have been slurred and he would have suffered a loss of judgment, which may have led him to get behind the wheel in the first place.
He was arrested and paid more than $2,000 to bond himself out. He looked unhappily sober in both of his mugshots that night.
He was arraigned a year later, on May 30, 2018, in front of Quinnett County Judge Emily Brantley, as one of 50 cases she heard that day.
At the time, Harbaugh was with Children’s Medical Group, where he has since been promoted to president.
The arraignment information is one of the only parts of the paper trail that has not been buried, even though it should precisely map out the outcome for each defendant. The records don’t show any repercussions for Harbaugh, despite the severity of the offense. Most of the paper was redacted, save Harbaugh’s name.
One fortunate pediatrician
It seems as if Harbaugh got lucky, despite the serious nature of a DIU when the driver is a medical professional tasked with protecting children’s lives.
He became a pediatrician, he told the American Academy of Pediatrics in an episode of the YouTube show “Good News,” as a way to influence the future for years to come by ensuring the health of the children who he sees through his practice.
But imagine if he had killed someone while driving under the influence. That legacy would have been utterly devastating.
If Harbaugh’s conviction had been made public and had the Georgia Composite Medical Board been properly notified, according to Georgia law, he could have lost his license to practice medicine or had his ability to practice significantly restricted, and he probably would have had to fork over the cash to pay the heavy fines associated with DUI.
Georgia has tough DUI rules, and a single offense could lead to probation from practicing, suspension or even permanent revocation of a medical license, fines of up to $3,000, public or private reprimand, additional training or medical education courses, and a mental or physical examination, the results of which will be used to determine disciplinary actions. Additional DUI charges are felonies, and are treated much more harshly.
Even riskier than driving under the influence, however, was to allegedly fail to report the incident to the medical board, which could have responded by permanently revoking Harbaugh’s medical license, rather than the lesser charges associated with a first DUI.
DUI charges don’t even raise medical board eyebrows
So, were there any repercussions at all for Harbaugh, one of the Atlanta area’s top pediatricians?
The Georgia Composite Medical Board requires a report of the arrest and the outcome to be made to the board within a short period of time, usually 10 to 30 days, which would have allowed enough time for the arresting officer or Harbaugh himself to report to them.
The GA Board – which does not always take action over a DUI that was not a felony (as a first offense, Harbaugh’s was a misdemeanor) – declines all comments on such matters, but public information should reflect the charge outcome and board action, if any. Neither of these appear anywhere in Harbaugh’s board records.
Terrifyingly, Harbaugh was hardly the only doctor to be charged with a DUI that year.
Estimates suggest that as many as 2,800 medical professionals are arrested annually for DUI, a move that could lead to the loss of his or her medical license due to unprofessional conduct, or the loss of someone’s life if they should have an accident. That’s not what doctors plan when they enroll in med school and vow to follow four ethical principles, including the primary one, “First do no harm.” (Not exactly part of the Hippocratic oath, but important nonetheless.)
According to the Centers for Professional Recovery, DUI is one of the most common causes for board discipline, suggesting that unlike Harbaugh, most physicians follow protocol and file the required report.
Did Harbaugh deliberately break protocol?
It does seem unlikely that such a prominent pediatrician with so many influential colleagues would fail to properly follow the law, as he is allegedly known for being quick to fault others for similarly nefarious offenses.
Certainly, Harbaugh’s current and former business partners who now sit on the GA Board could have helped him with the proper protocol, including filing a report.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence of any action taken by the board, even years later when members finally learned of the DUI. Harbaugh still has his license to practice.
Allegedly, based on diligent research, Harbaugh suffered no ramifications, even though a medical doctor “dedicated” to the health and lives of children so egregiously endangered everyone on the roads that night.
If any of the rest of us were arrested on DUI charges, could we expect no consequences as well? It’s highly unlikely, unless the arresting officer was a family member or longtime friend who possibly owed us a favor.
One anonymous source says the shear hypocrisy of Harbaugh publicly declaring his devotion to children’s health from infancy to adolescence both before and after the DUI is a challenging concept to comprehend, let alone accept as truth.
But is children’s health actually the foremost goal for Harbaugh?
In 2014, Harbaugh and a group of colleagues penned an essay that appeared in the American Academy of Pediatrics publication Pediatrics that outlined the problems associated with the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), similar to Medicaid and used alongside Medicaid for at-risk pediatrics patients, one of which was reimbursement.
“The rates at which pediatricians have been willing to accept children covered by public health insurance programs have declined in recent years as the payment rates in these programs have generally deteriorated relative to rates associated with commercial plans,” the doctors wrote.
According to an anonymous source, Harbaugh and other doctors who are part of The Children’s Care Network allegedly make up for the low pay by skimming off the top of CHIP payments, leaving other doctors to suffer financially.
While 75 percent of doctors are willing to accept new patients with private insurance, just 45 percent are open to patients receiving government aid. Harbaugh does not participate in the Medicare program for adults. Apparently, the poor are fine unless they are in need of health care. Unfortunately, not all of us are as altruistic as Danny Thomas, founder of St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, where no parent is charged a cent for their child’s care.
Harbaugh sits on the board of the Children’s Care Network, which is working to demonstrate the network’s value to payers. Saving those payers money is not at the top of the list.
More to the doctor’s story
Harbaugh did his residency at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, and graduated from the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University in 1986. He has 37 years of experience, and aside from the DUI, has a clean record aside from a few dismissed medical malpractice cases and good reviews from patients. Presumably, none of those patients know about Harbaugh’s DUI and subsequent arrest.
Despite the DUI, Harbaugh has held numerous positions of power within the medical community, including serving as the former CEO of Kids Health First, an Atlanta-based Independent Practice Association that includes more than 200 pediatricians.
In addition to sitting on the board of the Children’s Care Network, Harbaugh is also on the board of directors of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Kids Health First, Atlanta.
We reached out to Harbaugh for a comment, but the doctor failed to respond to our request.
Harbaugh is a member of the Georgia Chapter for the American Academy of Pediatrics. In addition to being affiliated with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, he also has privileges at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta.
It is through his practice that Harbaugh can encourage young people not to imbibe in drugs or alcohol. Does he do so, or do the hypocritical words get tangled coming out of his mouth?
According to a 1994 study in the journal Alcohol Health and Research World, “The pediatrician can help prevent or reduce alcohol-induced impairments by providing education and guidance about the responsible use of alcohol and by initiating early intervention if necessary.”
Perhaps Harbaugh himself should have taken that advice more seriously.
BY BRENDA NEUGENT
194 Neugent Road
Madison, NC 27025
NB: Views and opinions in this content are solely of the writer. There is no affiliation with My Christian Pundit.