PROVIDENCE — A Warwick consulting firm has received initial approval from the Health Department to become the first business in Rhode Island to provide assistance to patients seeking to join the state’s growing medical marijuana program.
B&B Consulting LLC, at 300 Toll Gate Rd., got the OK last week in a report from the Committee of the Health Services Council to establish an organized ambulatory care facility that will focus on medical marijuana.
Dr. Michael Fine, director of the Health Department, accepted the committee’s recommendation and gave initial approval to the application.
Jessica Cotton, the firm’s sole owner and administrator, said she thinks that B&B Consulting is the first medical marijuana consulting firm in the nation to gain approval from a state health department. She said that two doctors will make recommendations for patients to gain entry into the medical marijuana program.
“This is the only thing we are doing is medical marijuana evaluations,” Cotton said. “We are all ready. We are all set up.”
She hopes to get final Health Department approval by month’s end.
JoAnne Leppanen, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, welcomed B&B Consulting. She said too many patients are turned down by doctors at the Providence Veterans Administration Medical Center and at community health centers. She said the doctors cannot recommend medical marijuana because the hospitals and centers are funded with federal dollars.
Under federal law, marijuana remains an illegal drug that is in the same category as heroin, LSD and Ecstasy.
She also said that both doctors have a deep knowledge about the drug’s benefits in dealing with certain medical problems. She supported the B&B application to the Health Department.
“Patients would prefer to go to a doctor who knows something about cannabis,” she said.
The two physicians are Dr. Timothy Spurrell and Dr. Thomas Robert Rocco Jr., who will serve as medical director at B&B Consulting. He is licensed in Rhode Island and Wisconsin and board-certified in general surgery.
According to the National Practitioner Data Bank Self Query that is included in the Health Department report, a $150,000 settlement was reached a year ago involving patient allegations that Rocco had performed “a negligent lymph node biopsy which resulted in suprascapular nerve damage and ongoing pain and suffering.” In November 2011, the report states that Rocco’s clinical privileges were reduced at Newport Hospital “as a result of a quality care investigation.”
Spurrell is a licensed physician in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Texas and Maryland and is board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology.
The doctors, under state law, are required to establish and maintain medical records with qualifying patients for the medical marijuana program. They also must diagnose or confirm the diagnosis that qualifies them for marijuana use.
The state allows marijuana to be used to be used by certified patients for relief from chronic pain, cancer, HIV, AIDS, severe nausea and other ailments.
Once the recommendation is made, the patient goes to the Health Department where a final determination is made on whether the patient can be certified to join the medical marijuana program.
Cotton said that the doctors, who will work two days a week, have evaluated and recommended about 900 people for the medical marijuana program in the past 1½ years. She said that she and her husband, Bill, a patient in the program who suffers from multiple sclerosis, recruited the doctors for the firm.
B&B Consulting’s application to the Health Department also mentions that the firm will be seeking referrals from the Rhode Island Free Clinic and community health centers.
Andrea Bagnall-Degos, spokeswoman for the Health Department, said that 546 doctors in Rhode Island had made recommendations for patients to join the medical marijuana program. She also said that 89 doctors from Massachusetts and Connecticut have done the same for Rhode Island patients.
B&B projects evaluating 647 people the first year; 1,555 in year two; and 1,600 in year three. There will be a $200 charge for the initial medical visit, $140 for consultant services and $50 for a follow-up visit. The services are not covered by Medicare, Medicaid or other health care insurance plans.
Rhode Island is one of 20 states, and the District of Columbia, with a medical marijuana program. The state’s first two dispensaries opened last spring. A third is expected to open early next year in Warwick.
State law permits only three dispensaries, otherwise known as compassion centers. Today, there are more than 6,700 medical marijuana patients in Rhode Island, a jump of nearly 25 percent from last spring.