AUSTIN (KXAN) — A fifth state lawmaker is now looking at legislation next session in response to a series of KXAN investigations into the Texas Medical Board. Our “Still Practicing” series revealed the state agency has allowed physicians it deemed a “threat to public safety” to keep treating patients while keeping dozens of out-of-state disciplinary records secret.
“Well, my first reaction is, ‘thank you,'” State Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) said during an interview on May 4. “Thank you for doing what we should have been doing.”
From behind his office desk at the Capitol, Hall said our investigations come as a shock. He is now calling for a full examination of the TMB in response to what we uncovered.
‘They are not doing the job they’re supposed to be doing’
“Oh, I guarantee you, we will be looking at trying to reform their whole operation,” Hall said. “They are not doing the job they’re supposed to be doing. It’s as simple as that.”
Until he watched our reports, Hall said he had no idea multiple doctors, credibly accused of inappropriate sexual contact with female patients and deemed a “threat to public welfare,” were allowed to keep practicing — as long as they only treated men. The TMB previously told us it has to balance protecting the public and a doctor’s right to due process.
“Until you brought up what was happening out here,” he said, sitting in front of American and Texas flags, “I was really not aware that they were lenient” with discipline.
Asked if this is something he will look into further, he responded: “Oh, absolutely.”
Hall is planning legislation next session that would tighten the complaint process by making allegations formal affidavits and doing away with anonymous and second-hand complaints. Hall hopes that will cut down on what he calls “frivolous” investigations into complaints made by uninvolved parties.
“They would have their time to focus on things where patients are actually harmed,” he said.
He says the TMB should focus efforts on disciplining doctors accused of serious crimes. In particular, he takes issue with doctors fined for prescribing hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, despite the CDC saying it is not effective against the virus.
“Doctors have called me with having answered to the Medical Board because it got a complaint that his office was not clean enough,” Hall said. “So, when you spend time on things like that, how do you have time to find the doctor who’s selling opioids under the counter?”
Donors on the board
On the Democratic side, across the Capitol, House Rep. Julie Johnson (D-Farmers Branch) is currently drafting legislation in direct response to what KXAN uncovered in a follow-up investigation.
In May, KXAN found at least seven TMB board members donated nearly $400,000, collectively, to Gov. Greg Abbott, who appointed them. Several public members come from real estate, energy and business sectors, our investigation found, with no obvious patient advocacy or patient safety experience. Abbott, in at least one case, touted his nominee’s “business interests.”
Johnson wants the board’s public, non-medical members to have patient advocacy backgrounds — something that is not currently required.
“How do you hold the Texas Medical Board accountable when it’s not following the law like it should?” KXAN investigative reporter Matt Grant asked.
“Well,” Johnson said, “we need to look into that and we need to find ways to do that. And one issue might be who’s on the Texas Medical Board and revisiting the qualifications for the people that sit on there. Right now, there are not a lot of requirements. You know, Gov. Abbott is able to appoint his big dollar donors to the Medical Board and they’re not doing their job.”
Board members have not responded to KXAN’s request for comment.
A spokesperson for Abbott tells KXAN office he will “continue working” with the TMB to “ensure board members and physicians are held accountable,” adding the governor has “worked to appoint members that will help promote his policies to protect the interests and care of Texans.”
State Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston) and State Reps. Terry Meza (D-Irving) and Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) have also expressed interest in legislation.
Abbott’s Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke, said he wants to work with the legislature to end donor appointments, not just at the TMB, but all state boards.