How a Dangerous Doctor Can Keep Harming Patients

Last year we covered the outrageous spectacle in west Texas when two nurses who were appalled at a doctor’s quackish and dangerous treatments of patients got into criminal trouble when they tried to report him to the state licensing board. Eventually the nurses were vindicated, but not before they lost their jobs. Now the doctor and the criminal authorities who did his bidding in Winkler County have had their comeuppance.

But still one question remains. How could this doctor, Rolando G. Arafiles Jr., have moved from town to town in Texas, inflicting harm on patients and ultimately moving on, and the authorities have taken so long to bring him to earth?

The answer exposes the perennial conflict-of-interest flaw in any professional self-disciplinary system, where the authorities bend over backwards to find some reason to let one of their fellow doctors keep practicing.

It’s really not too different from the child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State, where a powerful authority figure, an assistant football coach, could continually inflict grievous harm on small children and his fellow football coaches like Joe Paterno looked the other way out of self-interest.

The Texas story is summed up in this Texas Observer story, which has this telling paragraph:

The more we dug into Arafiles’ past, the more a troubling circular pattern emerged. In his wanderings across Texas-from Victoria to Crane to his wilderness years as a contract doctor to, finally, Kermit-Arafiles did the same things over and over, with the same results. He moved into town. He charmed the townsfolk. He began practicing medicine that can be charitably described as questionable; less charitably as dangerous. He peddled fringe treatments of dubious medical value. He tried to turn town authority figures against anyone who challenged him. He turned litigious when challenged. Eventually, he was stopped, but not punished. He left town, he moved on to somewhere else, and he did it all over again. And perhaps he would still be doing it today had two brave nurses in Kermit not put a stop to it.

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