Physician accused in nurses’ complaint facing state inquiry
LUBBOCK — Nurses nationwide were outraged when two of their own were fired and threatened with prison time for complaining anonymously about a West Texas doctor they believed was unethical and risking patients’ health.
The doctor had gone to local law enforcement after the complaint demanding an investigation that identified the nurses, one of whom was forced to go to trial before being exonerated, but now, it’s the doctor who faces accusations — and possibly the loss of his medical license. The trouble started in April 2009, when the nurse s , Anne Mitchell and Vickilyn Galle, sent an unsigned letter to the Texas Medical Board outlining concerns about Rolando Arafiles Jr., including his alleged use of herbal remedies and attempt to use hospital supplies to perform at-home procedures.
Arafiles, licensed in Texas since 1998, has said the nurses’ letter was intended to harm him personally. They were charged criminally with felony misuse of official information and fired from their jobs at Winkler County Memorial Hospital. Charges against Galle were later dropped, and Mitchell was exonerated in a February trial.
Now, the medical board has filed a complaint alleging that Arafiles used “poor medical judgment” and “poor decision-making,” overbilled patients, prescribed nontherapeutic treatments and intimidated witnesses. He could face a wide range of disciplinary action, including losing his license, board spokeswoman Leigh Hopper said.
The complaint, filed late last month, is the first time allegations concerning Arafiles’ medical practices have been laid out in a public document, but the nurses’ attorney, Brian Carney, said most of the information provided by the nurses is in the licensing board’s complaint.
In an e-mail response, the attorney representing Arafiles in the board complaint denied that her client “engaged in any questionable” medical treatment.
She also said the U.S. and Texas constitutions gave him the right to go to authorities.
“The decision to act upon those inquiries is a matter of discretion among law enforcement personnel for which he bears no legal responsibility and for which, we submit, he cannot and should not be sanctioned by the Texas Medical Board,” Jennifer House’s e-mail said.
Among the allegations in the complaint, Arafiles is accused of prescribing hormone replacement therapy to a patient with a history of deep-vein thrombosis, which can cause “serious complications/death,” and of not documenting the history. The patient developed a thrombosis after starting the medication, the complaint says.
The unprofessional conduct allegation stems from Arafiles’ decision to go to the Winkler County sheriff, “a personal friend and patient,” to have the anonymous letter investigated and to pursue criminal charges against the nurses, the complaint states.
The nurses were identified and charged after he filed a harassment complaint against them and the sheriff investigated, the board says.
Nursing associations and health care watchdogs in Texas and across the country rallied around Mitchell during the trial, saying the case was a key test of physician accountability.
State investigators concluded that the hospital discriminated against them by firing them for “reporting in good faith.”
The women have filed a federal lawsuit seeking damages against Arafiles, the hospital and its administrator, and several county officials are named as defendants.
The medical board’s complaint was filed June 22, and no resolution came from an informal settlement conference with Arafiles. The board then sent the formal complaint to the State Office of Administrative Hearings, requesting a proceeding that could result in disciplinary action against Arafiles.
No hearing date has been set.
Rolando Arafiles Jr.