HealthcareLocal NewsTexas Senator Proposes Medical Board Reforms After Doctor Faces Investigation Over Early COVID-19 Treatments

The appointed board may investigate complaints from “third or fourth-hand” sources and does not require demonstration that a patient was harmed to proceed with prosecution.
April 4, 2022
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A state senator is calling for reforms to the Texas Medical Board (TMB) after Houston Doctor Mary Talley Bowden announced she is fighting three anonymous complaints that could jeopardize her medical license.

During a press conference in Houston with Bowden last Friday, Sen. Bob Hall (R-Canton) took aim at the 19-member, governor-appointed board and promised to seek reforms during the 2023 legislative session.

“They are supposed to protect the people of Texas, but they’ve been doing anything but that,” said Hall, who referred to the board as a group of “unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats.”

According to Bowden, an ear, nose, and throat specialist who says she has successfully treated thousands of COVID-19 patients with Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, the TMB accepts and may investigate complaints without verifying the existence of a patient or patient harm. 

“The Texas Medical Board operates like secret police,” said Bowden. “They investigate doctors on second, third, and fourth-hand information. It operates in secret and does not even allow doctors to know the source of the complaint. In no other part of our society are hidden and anonymous accusations acceptable.”

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Bowden said that prior to the pandemic, the TMB suspended licenses for serious issues related to drug or sexual abuse, gross negligence, or intentional harm, but that in the past two years, the state board had been investigating doctors for using “safe, off-label prescriptions” related to COVID-19 treatments.

Among his proposed reforms, Hall said the TMB should only accept complaints from patients or their families or caregivers, that complaints should consist of sworn and notarized statements, and that doctors subject to investigation should be given a copy of the complaint. 

Under current Texas Administrative Code, a complaint must include the name and contact information of the complainant, but the identity of the complainant “shall remain confidential.” The code also permits the board to file a complaint of its own initiative and does not require the demonstration that a patient has been harmed. 

Noting that doctors spend “tens of thousands of dollars to litigate TMB investigations,” Hall also said that the TMB should be required to resolve complaints within 60 days, that investigations should focus on a specific incident, that a prosecution should only be able to proceed on a vote of eight active doctors, and that conviction should only be approved with support of a super-majority of the board.  

Hall added that the board should not have the authority to investigate or discipline physicians for public statements.

“There should be no investigation of any kind for a doctor exercising his or her First [Amendment Rights] to express their opinion,” insisted Hall.

Last year, Houston Methodist Hospital suspended Bowden’s privileges after she expressed opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and urged the use of Ivermectin. Bowden says that while none of the complaints pending against her appear to be from patients, she believes one is from Methodist Hospital.

Joined by doctors Richard Urso and Angelina Farella, Bowden defended her use of Ivermectin for COVID-19 patients and said there had not been any reports of patients harmed by a doctor-prescribed treatment of the medication. 

Regarding a recent study touted in the press as proving Ivermectin is not an effective treatment, Bowden noted that the patients studied were not treated early but eight days after diagnosis and with lower doses for shorter periods of time. 

“The study was designed to fail and does not thwart my trust in Ivermectin whatsoever,” said Bowden.

“You’re seeing the wrong dose, the wrong time, the wrong patient, and small numbers of patients,” added Urso. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not support the use of Ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 but has approved the drugs for other conditions including some parasitic-related infections, malaria, certain autoimmune conditions, and rheumatoid arthritis. 

Early COVID-19 treatments have met opposition from some government agencies, and the Texas Department of State Health Services has issued poison warnings about Ivermectin, and in 2020 the State Board of Pharmacy attempted to prohibit prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine dispensed without a diagnosis but abandoned the rule six weeks later.  

Other reforms suggested by Hall included mandating that the TMB go through a structured rule-making procedure instead of what he called “just making up rules as they’ve gone along.”

Hall also said the state legislature should establish a “bill of rights” that would protect a patient’s right to try off-label medications, choose their own doctors, and establish visitation rights for hospitalized patients. He added that patients should not be bullied or shamed for their choice of treatment.

Earlier this year, Bowden sued Methodist Hospital seeking data on COVID-19 treatments and related financial information. State law requires non-profit, tax-exempt corporations such as Methodist Hospital to provide certain financial information to the public but the hospital has not willingly complied with requests.  

Employees fired by Methodist hospital for refusal to comply with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate have also sued, and the case remains pending appeal before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court. 

Hall and Bowden, along with 12 other physicians, will be participating in a summit event scheduled for April 9 in Houston to discuss both the government and medical industry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.   

“The Texas Medical Board has become a tool for those with a political agenda to discredit physicians they don’t agree with,” said Bowden. “We need protections in place to discourage unmerited, frivolous complaints against physicians.”

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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.