CHARLESTON - Dr. Roland Chalifoux will have 15 days to decide whether to fight the suspension of his West Virginia medical license Friday amid allegations of unsafe injection practices at his Valley Pain Management Clinic in McMechen.
The West Virginia Board of Osteopathic Medicine held an emergency meeting Friday on the status of Chalifoux's license after reports surfaced this week alleging patients were injected multiple times with the same needle and single-dose vials were used for multiple patients at the clinic. After discussing the evidence against Chalifoux behind closed doors for about 30 minutes, board members voted 5-0, with two absent, to suspend his West Virginia medical license immediately.
The Board of Osteopathic Medicine is a seven-member body appointed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin that consists of four physicians, one physician's assistant and two other state residents. The board's executive director, Diana Shepard, and Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Akers were present at the board's Charleston office, while board members participated via conference call.
Photo by Ian Hicks
West Virginia Board of Osteopathic Medicine Executive Director Diana Shepard, left, and Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Akers conduct a board meeting Friday via conference call concerning the medical license of Dr. Roland Chalifoux.
Voting in favor of Chalifoux's suspension were Dr. Joseph Schreiber of Hancock County, Dr. Ernest Miller of Wood County, Elizabeth Blatt of Mercer County and Dr. Arthur Rubin and Robert Whitler of Kanawha County. Dr. Michael Muscari of Wyoming County and Heather Jones of Logan County did not participate in the meeting.
Neither Chalifoux nor his attorney, Elgine McArdle, were invited to participate in Friday's meeting. Shepard said he will have the opportunity to refute the allegations at future hearings.
"We felt this was a public safety issue that needed to be addressed immediately," Shepard said.
Although Chalifoux did not directly deny the allegations of unsafe practices, he claimed they stemmed from a "personal vendetta" against him on the part of state Health Officer Dr. Letitia Tierney.
"Seriously, don't you think that if anyone kept using the same needles and syringes on people, you would have had an epidemic of sick people in the Ohio Valley? Use some common sense. That never happened," Chalifoux said. "Medicine is hard enough to practice daily to have a state official like Dr. Tierney as well as her Ohio counterpart misrepresent the truth for the sake of destroying another physician as well as inciting fear and panic in the population."
Tierney, however, said that "during the course of an outbreak or exposure investigation, state law requires the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health to notify patients who may have been exposed to a serious infectious disease like hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV."
"The media advisory sent July 21, 2014, was not the preferred method of notifying patients of the risk of infection. Because of the clinic's unwillingness to cooperate with the investigation and the refusal to provide a complete patient list from the time the clinic opened in 2010 through the time the clinic implemented the corrective action plan, the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health was compelled to take steps to notify patients of possible overall risk of infection," Tierney said.
If Chalifoux requests a hearing on the summary suspension, according to Shepard, the board will have to demonstrate it had enough evidence to act before allowing Chalifoux to respond. If that is upheld, she said, the investigation will continue, with potential discipline ranging from fines to a suspension of up to five years or an outright revocation of Chalifoux's license.
Akers, who serves as counsel for the osteopathic board, said the evidence, based on eyewitness accounts from a West Virginia Bureau of Public Health epidemiologist who visited the McMechen practice, was strong enough to warrant emergency action.
"There were a number of things they observed that were very troubling," Akers said.
According to Akers and Shepard, the unsafe practices by Chalifoux and his staff allegedly observed at Valley Pain Management included injecting a patient multiple times with the same needle, failure to wear a mask, inadequate skin preparation and poor hand hygiene. Shepard said the board has no evidence that Chalifoux or his staff used the same needle to inject multiple patients.
Because of the potential for infection from the alleged misuse of needles, public health officials in West Virginia and Ohio this week said patients of the clinic should get tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV as a precaution by their physician or at their local health department.
The clinic reportedly has refused to disclose lists of those who may have been exposed to diseases at the clinic. Akers said she believes the Bureau for Public Health is still attempting to obtain patient lists by subpoena.
Shepard said the board does not know how many patients Valley Pain Management treated between 2010 and December, but said the clinic performed an average of 15-18 invasive procedures per day.
Chalifoux's license to practice in Texas was revoked in June 2004 based on three separate cases, including one in which a patient died. In September 2004, he was issued a restricted license to practice in West Virginia, and received an unrestricted license on June 29, 2005.
Shepard believes the West Virginia board was particularly thorough in Chalifoux's case because of that history, as a "clean" application - one in which a physician has no blemishes on his or her record - normally takes three to four weeks to process.
"The board took over a year in reviewing (his) application. ... They did an extensive review," she said.
According to Shepard, there are 1,260 osteopathic physicians licensed to practice in West Virginia. Of those, 13 - about 1 percent - have been disciplined in some manner, ranging from reprimands and fines to revocation, since the beginning of 2013.