"I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone," so says the Hippocratic Oath, still considered by many the professional standard for physicians, millennia after it was written.
But here in West Virginia, a few doctors appear to have shown they are far less interested in the health and wellbeing of their patients than in serving their own selfish - even criminal - needs. The state's Board of Osteopathic Medicine on Friday suspended the medical license of Dr. Roland F. Chalifoux, after allegations surfaced of non-sterile techniques at Valley Pain Management in McMechen, including re-used needles and syringes, and use of the same pain medication vials for multiple patients.
Both the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health and Ohio Department of Health have been forced to release advisories that patients be tested for blood-borne infectious diseases ranging from HIV to hepatitis B and C, if they received treatment at the pain clinic. But while Chalifoux continues to protest his innocence, it comes to light that his medical license was revoked in Texas in 2004, for violating standards of care in the treatment of three patients, one of whom died. West Virginia's Board of Osteopathic Medicine granted him a license the following year.
Such forgiveness - or negligence - by the board does not inspire much confidence in the process for licensing physicians in the Mountain State. Earlier this month, a doctor in Oak Hill lost his license and then was sentenced to up to 35 years in prison in a case of prescribing pain pills in exchange for sex. Dr. Oscar Gosien was described by a judge as "nothing but a community drug dealer."
Appalachia is under siege, and poorly run pain clinics - some of which have been revealed as simply another arm of the monster of prescription drug addiction that has gripped our region - should be a relatively easy place for law enforcement and the bureaucracy to begin to tackle the problem.
Instead, it took the Board of Osteopathic Medicine nearly 10 years to correct the mistake it appears to have made after Texas told Chalifoux to take a hike. Perhaps this case will provide the inspiration the board needs to evaluate its licensing and monitoring procedures. No one else should be put in danger, or die, because physicians have forgotten their duty to "preserve the purity" of their lives and art.