"I came here to drink milk and kick ass. And I've just finished my milk." - Moss, The IT Crowd

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Worse than no clothes: the Texas Medical Board has no teeth

In case you thought the Texas Medical Board existed largely to protect patients from bad doctors, I recommend that you read this article in the Texas Observer about Dr. Rolando Arafiles, his alleged acts of malpractice in Winkler County in West Texas, and the ensuing campaign of intimidation against the nurses who reported him. (Dr. Arafiles's status as a "public figure" may be subject to debate, so I'm throwing the word "alleged." However, I find the allegations of malpractice to be wholly credible, albeit astounding.)

When I use the term "malpractice," I'm not blowing smoke. The guy is accused of, among many other things, having "sutured part of a rubber tip removed from suture kit scissors to the wound on Patient A’s right thumb." You can read more about his numerous poor medical decisions in the complaint filed by the staff of the Texas Medical Board. It's bad. Really, really bad.

Apparently, Arafiles also has a history of hawking colloidal silver and alkalinized water, and stoking vaccine fears. (I don't want to get into the vaccination debate, because I do think both that (a) vaccines save lives in the aggregate and that (b) there will always be individuals who have severe adverse reactions to vaccines. But based on the other quackery he was associated with, I doubt Arafiles was giving patients balanced and accurate information about vaccination benefits and risks.) Most of the source material for the linked article has already been removed, since the old website for Arafiles's Health2Fit business is gone. However, this "alternative medicine" bottom-feeding (and selling colloidal silver really is bottom-feeding) is of a piece with shilling for Zrii, which Arafiles stated in his own testimony that he promoted.

Wait, it gets better! See, Zrii is sold using a multi-level marketing (MLM) scheme; as usual, it involves inducing the greedy and mathematically challenged to sell overpriced products of unproven value to the gullible and the desperate. As with any MLM, a distributor needs to recruit other distributors to make money. Guess who signed up as Zrii distributors: the county sheriff and his wife.

Anyway, the county sheriff, the county attorney (who was previously busted in an Odessa prostitution scandal, which was made into a Lifetime movie), and the hospital administrator (who recently pled guilty to abuse of official capacity), with the tacit approval of the president of the hospital board, connived to harass the nurses who finally reported Arafiles to the Texas Medical Board, culminating in filing criminal charges against the nurses for misuse of official information. (The nurses were subsequently acquitted and have sued successfully.)

The shenanigans that this power-mad, unaccountable clique of bozos engaged in constitute a black eye for their community, and are the kind of thing that cause ridicule and distrust towards small-town officials. However, they were eventually found out and prosecuted (with the exception of the hospital board president) by the state Attorney General's office, which is how it's supposed to work. So, while it's alarming that this ever could have happened in the first place, I'm not too unhappy with how it turned out.

Here's what I *AM* upset about. The Texas Medical Board placed Arafiles on 4 years of probation. HE CAN CONTINUE TO PRACTICE MEDICINE. With some restrictions, yes -- but if you turned up in a small-town emergency room ended up seeing this guy, would you feel like it was all OK because he has to be "monitored" by another physician? In what universe is it acceptable allow someone to continue practicing medicine after he has shown this kind of blatant, ongoing disregard for professional standards, ethics, and common sense? But if he'd written a few too many Oxycontin prescriptions to people with chronic pain problems, I have a funny feeling his license would have been yanked by now.

FAIL, Texas Medical Board. Are you staffed primarily by people like this Dr. Jane Orient, Executive Director of the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons, whose reaction to the illegitimate prosecution of the Winkler nurses was to say, "Accountability for false complaints is long overdue"?

Ah, don't worry, everyone. No doubt tort reform will have all this fixed in no time.

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