Top secret meetings, back-door deals and confidential complaints are all a part of the Texas Board of Medical Examiners. The state board is supposed to be policing doctors and protecting the public but some patients complain the system is a prescription for failure.
In 2003 Texas lawmakers put caps on medial malpractice lawsuits but promised to keep a tight rein on doctors by beefing up the Texas board.
Fox 4 has been looking into the board's practices for some time but late Monday afternoon we found another example of why some patients question who the board really protects.
Just opening a door is a now a struggle for Irma Carbajal LeCroy, once a successful Realtor. Her life changed a year ago when she ended up in the emergency room.
"He said, 'Young lady, you have one hour to live,'" Carbajal LeCroy said. "We are going to have to operate on you right now."
Carbajal Lecroy had gone to the Molina Medical Clinic in Irving for an elective procedure called a Brazilian butt lift. Dr. Hector Oscar Molina removed fat from her abdomen and re-injected it into the buttocks.
Her friend called 911 when Carbajal LeCroy woke up in a recovery room in a panic.
"I need an ambulance. I am here with one of my friends who had surgery today," the woman told the 911 operator. "She cannot feel the bottom of her feet and she does not feel good. There is nobody here, just me and her."
Doctors at Baylor Hospital operated on Carbajal LeCroy 27 times. Her attorney says fat was injected into her muscle.
After months of surgery and rehab, Carbajal LeCroy is now permanently disabled. She has scars that run almost a foot long up both legs. She wears braces to hold her feet in place.
"My feet, I have no feeling at all," Carbajal LeCroy said.
Carbajal LeCroy filed a medical malpractice lawsuit but Molina has no medical malpractice insurance for plastic surgery.
He has denied the allegations in the suit. He referred us to his lawyer, who did not return calls.
"I used to make 10 to 15 thousand dollars a month," said Carbajal LeCroy. "I can't even make rent at an apartment complex."
Carbajal LeCroy's family filed complaints with the Texas Medical Board but those complaints were secret.
Seven months later another patient was rushed to Baylor's emergency room.
"I have been literally butchered. You know, ripped open," said Monica Moreno.
Moreno went to Dr. Molina for an arm lift and breast implants.
Nine days after surgery, her family complained to the medical board that her wounds were severely infected and she couldn't breathe. Moreno spent two months at Baylor and in rehab.
"Is it possible to run out of tears?" Moreno said. "It is like a bad nightmare."
Her family says had they known about Irma Carbajal LeCroy, they never would have allowed Dr. Molina to cut on Moreno.
"If they knew they had a complaint and they knew this doctor did this, they should have put him on suspension or stopped it," Frances Sandoval, Moreno's mother, said.
One year after Carbajal LeCroy's surgery the Texas Board of Medical Examiners met in Austin, but board representatives told Fox 4 Dr. Molina was not on the agenda.
We didn't know what happened to those complaints. It's all top secret.
"We can't tell you where a particular case is," Irvin Zeitler Jr., D.O. said. Zeitler is president of the board.
"I understand why the public would want to know more information," said Mari Robinson, executive director of the board. "But we cannot give it to you."
The public only gets to see disciplinary action when it is final. Even during public meetings, board members, who are mostly doctors, refer to physicians as numbers and never mention their names.
Since 2003 the number of complaints rolling into the board has skyrocketed from 4,900 to more than 8,000 last year. But investigations are down to only 25 percent. Mari Robinson says doctors now review complaints instead of nurses and they are finding 75 percent don't require investigating.
Cases are also taking much longer to resolve. That number is up to 328 days.
"We cannot force people to review cases so we have to find people to agree to do it," Robinson said.
Robinson says the Federation of Medical Boards ranked Texas No. 1 for all disciplinary actions in 2010. But Public Citizen, which looks at just serious disciplinary actions like revocations and suspensions, ranked Texas 34 nationwide.
"The job of the medical board is to police the profession, find the worst actors and kick them out," said Alex Winslow of Texas Watch, a consumer watchdog group. "That's their job. Slaps on the wrist, administrative penalties, that does not do the job."
But that is exactly what the Dickersons say happened with their case against Dr. Manuel Rivera-Alsina, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist.
"He took away options from us," Jennifer Dickerson said.
"Slap on the wrist," Todd Dickerson said.
The medical board found the specialist, "failed to recognize and diagnose" their baby's congenital diaphragmatic hernia during an ultrasound that left Dickerson "with no opportunity to seek treatment."
Their baby, Ava, died shortly after birth.
The board fined Rivera-Alsina $2,000 and ordered the specialist to get more training.
Rivera-Alsina did not return our calls. The Dickerson's say it felt like the whole process was stacked against them.
"We were not allowed to hear what he had to say but he got to hear what we had to say," Jennifer Dickerson said. "It was all confidential."
And there are others that feel the medical board let them down.
Amber Sommers thought the doctor involved in her mother's death would never practice again.
She was just 9 years old when she got the news of an accident.
"It just erases your world," Sommers said.
In 2001 the medical board found Dr. Jacques Roy was having a "sexual relationship" with Deborah Sommers and "wrote her more than 35 prescriptions." An autopsy confirmed Sommers had an "elevated blood level of hydrocodone" the day of the accident.
The board put Roy on five years probation.
In February the federal government busted Dr. Roy, claiming he was the biggest single Medicare fraudster in the country. The case is pending. Dr. Roy declined comment.
"That name, Dr. Roy, has haunted our family," said Amber Sommers.
All of these women believe the board's delays, secrecy and leniency ends up costing patients and leaves a trail of devastation.
"Slapped him on the wrist," said Sommers. "It was like he never did anything wrong."
"I want some kind of justice or explanation for why this happened, what went wrong," said Monica Moreno.
"Why would they allow him to continue hurting people," said Irma Carbajal LeCroy.
Late Monday afternoon, the board informed Fox 4 it has now taken action on Carbajal LeCroy's complaint. The board temporarily restricted Dr. Molina from performing any cosmetic, plastic or reconstructive procedures.
"I've got medical bills. I need therapy. I don't know where to stay. Where am I going to stay?" Carbajal LeCroy said.
This is Dr. Molina's second trip to the board. In 2004 he was disciplined and ordered to pay $25,000 for prescribing controlled substances and dangerous drugs over the Internet.
Neither Carbajal LeCroy or Moreno had health insurance, so all of those surgeries and months of hospitalization were paid for by charity care and Medicaid, which means taxpayers helped picked up the tab.
KDFW FOX 4
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