Meningitis diagnosis prompted W.Va. clinic probe

AP News
Posted: Jul 22, 2014 8:25 PM

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — An investigation that found syringes were being reused at a West Virginia pain management clinic — whose operator had his medical license revoked in Texas — was triggered after a patient developed bacterial meningitis, a health official said Tuesday.

Health officials in Ohio and West Virginia advised patients of Valley Pain Management in McMechen on Monday to be tested for blood-borne infections.

West Virginia's state epidemiologist Dr. Loretta Haddy said a patient contracted bacterial meningitis a day after a procedure at the clinic. Haddy told The Associated Press that health officials were notified last October. She declined to disclose where the diagnosis occurred.

Bacterial meningitis is contagious, can cause swelling of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord and can be fatal. Survivors can suffer mental disabilities, hearing loss and paralysis. It is spread through saliva or mucous.

Haddy said the subsequent investigation found that the clinic's physician didn't wear a surgical mask during epidural injections, that the clinic reused syringes on more than one patient and had other sanitation issues.

The health advisory is for patients who had an injection between the clinic's 2010 opening and Nov. 1, 2013. Health officials urged patients from both states to be tested and said the clinic's injection practices potentially exposed them to diseases such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.

It wasn't immediately clear why patients weren't alerted prior to Monday. Both states' health agencies said they had requested a patient list from the clinic in order to notify patients of their potential risk of exposure and testing options.

Haddy said her department now has subpoenaed the clinic for those records.

"It's our mission to protect the public's health," Haddy said. "Due to the uncooperativeness and unwillingness of the clinic to provide a patient list, we had to go this route."

Dr. Roland Chalifoux Jr. operates the clinic, located in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle across the Ohio River from Ohio. His attorney, Elgine McArdle, said a subpoena violates health privacy laws.

McCardle said she plans to make a motion to quash the subpoena. She said state health officials cited a regulation that allows them to see patient lists if there's an epidemic.

"There is no epidemic," McCardle said Tuesday.

McArdle said saline bags from the clinic that were tested were found not to be infected. She called the investigation a "fishing expedition."

In 2004, the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners revoked Chalifoux's license for violating standards of care in his treatment of three patients, including the 1996 death of a 61-year-old man after unnecessary surgery was performed, according to the board's final order.

A Texas appeals court affirmed the license revocation.

The West Virginia Board of Osteopathy, which was aware of the disciplinary action in Texas, granted Chalifoux a restricted license in 2004 so he could complete a neurosurgery refresher course at West Virginia University's medical school. An unrestricted license was granted in 2005.

Haddy said the Board of Osteopathy has been alerted to the ongoing investigation. A call to the board wasn't immediately returned Tuesday.