Doctors Behaving Badly: Vengeful doctor and his sheriff buddy face Texas-style justice

Published on
November 12, 2010

Sometimes justice does win.

Antidote wrote last year about how Dr. Rolando Arafiles in Kermit, Texas, had used his clout to persuade Winkler County Sheriff Robert Roberts to go after two nurses who had accused him of stealing hospital supplies and using his medical office to run an herbal remedy business.

The Winkler County Attorney indicted the nurses – Anne Mitchell and Vicki Galle – for allegedly breaking Texas Penal Code 39.06, the misuse of official information. He said they had used patient information to file their anonymous complaint with the Texas Medical Board. Winkler County Memorial Hospital fired Mitchell and Galle as a result. The action was a slap in the face to any nurse who dared to defy a doctor.

Now, the medical board has pulled together a case that shows everyone why Galle and Mitchell were concerned.

The allegations, which can be easily found and downloaded for free from the Texas Medical Board site, cover nine patients who were harmed by Arafiles in some way.

They include this stunning allegation:  When a patient showed up at the Kermit hospital with a case of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, otherwise known as the Superbug, instead of rushing the patient to the ER, he poured an olive oil solution on her. As the medical board dryly notes, "the olive oil solution is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration."

On another occasion, a young child arrived with pain near the kidney. All signs pointed to appendicitis, but Arafiles ignored those signs. He ordered a CT scan, instead, and an enema. Then he sent the kid home without treating the appendicitis, putting him at risk of dying from an infection.

Another patient arrived with a headache. Without actually testing the patient for a thyroid condition, Arafiles prescribed a thyroid medication. It took another physician intervening to diagnose that the patient was suffering from a thyroid condition created by the medication Arafiles prescribed.

There are five other patients listed in the medical board records, which are easy to find, detailed and a true joy to read. The Texas board also gets major points for keeping Arafiles' previous disciplinary record from 1997 active and downloadable on its site.

But the patients are just the tip of the iceberg. The medical board also charged Arafiles with "witness intimidation" and described in detail in board records how Arafiles and the sheriff abused their power to go after these nurses and, worse yet, attempted to go after the patients as well.

In April 2009, the board told Arafiles it was investigating complaints about 10 patients. He then "contacted the Winkler County Sheriff, a personal friend and patient and requested his assistance to identify the complainant(s), and to file a harassment complaint against the complainant(s)." He gave the sheriff a list of the patient's names, and the sheriff then contacted each of the patients to find out whether they had complained about Arafiles. When none of them copped to complaining, the sheriff filed an open records request with the board asking for information about who tattled on Arafiles, claiming, the board says, "that he was conducting an investigation" involving Arafiles.

Now, here is where reasonable people might disagree. Should the board have handed over these records without fully understanding what the sheriff was doing? The board says that it gave the sheriff the actual complaint against Arafiles with the caveat that "the complaints and the identity of the complainants were to be treated as confidential and protected by law and only to be used in connection with a criminal investigation of [Arafiles]."

The sheriff tossed that caveat out the window of his squad car and hunted the nurses down. Soon they were indicted on third-degree felonies and scared beyond belief.

Isn't it nice to be friends with the local sheriff? Unfortunately for Arafiles, it appears the tables have turned. Now he and the sheriff are the ones accused of taking sensitive, official information and using it as a weapon.

Final question: While the medical board's case against Arafiles has yet to be resolved, what do we know about Galle and Mitchell? In short, they won big. The charges against Galle were dismissed, but Mitchell had to stand trial. She was then found not guilty by a jury – in less than an hour.

In April 2010, the Department of State Health Services in Texas fined the hospital $15,850 for the firings and for failing to properly supervise Arafiles. The nurses sued the hospital and others and ended up settling in June 2010 for $750,000.

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