WHEELING - Last week started out with warnings of a potential threat to the public's health, and ended with clarification about what allegedly happened at Dr. Roland Chalifoux's Valley Pain Management Clinic in McMechen - as well as the suspension of his West Virginia medical license.
On July 21, the Ohio Department of Health warned Ohio residents who used Valley Pain Management in McMechen to get tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV because it said the West Virginia Bureau of Health believes "that prior to Nov. 1, 2013, Valley Pain Management, which opened in 2010, re-used needles/syringes to administer pain medications and saline solutions, and used the same pain medication vial for multiple patients."
The ODH's statement is where the confusion apparently began, as media members believed that multiple patients were injected with used needles. No public health official on either side of the Ohio River refuted the reports. And neither did Chalifoux, at first.
But Chalifoux now says he never injected multiple patients with used needles.
He notes the press release from the ODH is misleading because it describes findings not found in the West Virginia investigation.
"It states that the same syringes and needles were used routinely to administer pain medications to different patients. This is not what the WVBPH found after a thorough investigation last October 2013," Chalifoux said.
The same day the Ohio Department of Health issued its press release about Valley Pain, the WVBPH released its own statement. It also urged West Virginia patients of the clinic to get tested. "Prior to Nov. 1, 2013, Valley Pain Management reused syringes to enter vials and saline bags used for more than one patient," the West Virginia release stated.
"Our primary responsibility in public health is to protect the public. While we cannot determine if these procedures caused any illnesses, it is possible this practice may have exposed Valley Pain Management patients to infections" said Dr. Letitia Tierney, commissioner and state health officer for the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, in the release.
Tierney also claimed Chalifoux refused to provide a patient list to help notify patients of a potential risk, and that a subpoena had been issued to force him to do so. But Chalifoux said he handed over plenty of patient records during the state's investigation. And when no outbreak of disease had been found, he declined to hand over more records.
Chalifoux claims the WVBPH is "inciting fear and panic" by misrepresenting what happened during the investigation.
Tierney said Friday that "following a reported bacterial meningitis infection and West Virginia Bureau for Public Health investigation, Valley Pain Management implemented a suggested corrective plan of action to address identified infectious disease control procedures. A follow up visit to the clinic was performed and all major issues had been addressed."
She noted it is possible that patients treated before Chalifoux corrected issues may have been exposed to infection.
"During the investigation, the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health found that prior to Nov. 1, 2013, Valley Pain Management had reused syringes to enter vials and saline bags used for more than one patient. ... An initial review of patient information provided by the clinic has indicated a need for ongoing surveillance and patient notification as required by state law," she said.
"The West Virginia Bureau for Public Health has repeatedly requested specific information about patient procedures, including a list of patients who received an injection procedure at the clinic from the time the clinic opened in 2010 through the time the corrective action plan was implemented in order to notify patients about the potential risk of disease and encourage them to talk to their primary care provider about testing options."
By Friday morning, the West Virginia Board of Osteopathic Medicine called an emergency meeting and voted to suspend Chalifoux's license after being alerted of the injection practice investigation by the WVBPH.
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 WVBPH has a separate investigation pending that alleges Chalifoux placed medical waste into a Dumpster in South Wheeling last year.
Chalifoux's Texas medical license was revoked in 2004 after one of his patients died - something the West Virginia Board of Osteopathic Medicine knew about when it granted him his medical license.
Staff Writer Ian Hicks contributed to this report.