Several Houston-area doctors in big trouble with the Texas Medical Board

KPRC 2 Investigates speaks with a Baytown doctor who is set to report to prison in a few months, but still seeing patients

Several Houston-area doctors are still practicing medicine even though they are in trouble with the Texas Medical Board
Several Houston-area doctors are still practicing medicine even though they are in trouble with the Texas Medical Board

Houston – KPRC 2 Investigates looks into some local doctors who are in big trouble with the Texas Medical Board. One of these doctors is a convicted felon.

Dr. Ghyasuddin Syed, MD, is a pain medicine specialist in Baytown. Syed was convicted of a federal offense, pleading guilty to conspiracy for funneling lab testing to a company for hundreds of thousands in kickbacks. However, he still has his license and is still seeing patients. KPRC 2 Investigates Joel Eisenbaum interviewed Syed at his offices in Baytown.

“I mean you’ve been convicted of a serious crime?” said Eisenbaum.

“Yeah,” replied Syed.

“You’re going to report to prison in a few months,” said Eisenbaum.

“Yeah,” said Syed.

“You have to report to prison in July?” said Eisenbaum.

“I’m very honest, very clean. I know only the Lord knows me. I’ve not done anything wrong,” said Syed.

But according to public records filed with the Texas Medical Board, Syed has a history of trouble. In 2016, the board found Syed failed to meet an adequate standard of care. In 2019, the board found he was prescribing drugs to patients he shouldn’t have. And just last year, the board ruled the doctor behaved inappropriately with three female patients.

“Did you inappropriately touch any of these women?” asked Eisenbaum.

“There’s no reason... one medical assistant here, one here, my wife is next door,” said Syed.

On Youtube, you can find an advertisement for a family doctor who practices in Alvin by the name of Dale Messer. Messer has not been convicted of any crime, but the Texas medical board has barred him from seeing female patients.

“I’m not doing anything wrong,” said Messer.

“You’re not doing anything wrong? Can you tell us what happened at the hospital?” asked Eisenbaum.

“No, I can’t do that,” said Messer.

TMB documents reveal that at a Clear Lake hospital, Messer had consensual sex with a patient in her hospital room.

He’s no longer on staff at the hospital, and after our brief interview, a patient told us that he has posted signs alerting patients that he can no longer treat females. KPRC 2 can’t confirm when he posted the notices.

The Texas Medical Board wouldn’t talk to us specifically about any doctor, but the director of operations did address the process for permanently pulling a doctor’s license.

Joel Eisenbaum Interviews Texas Medical Board attorney Christopher Palazola about Texas doctors who are in legal trouble
Joel Eisenbaum Interviews Texas Medical Board attorney Christopher Palazola about Texas doctors who are in legal trouble

RAW INTERVIEW: KPRC2 Investigates Joel Eisenbaum Interviews Director of Operations for Texas Medical Board

Joel Eisenbaum:

I appreciate you guys coming on and talking to us. I won’t take a lot of your time. So, my first question is... so people have an understanding. So, our story is about. You know, in the COVID-era, people are seeing doctors, people who have to rely on doctors, people want to know they can rely on doctors. They also want to know that the doctors are going to, you know, good doctors, essentially. So, what is the role of the Texas Medical Board?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

Well, the role of the medical board is, you know, our mission statement includes that we both license and we educate and we discipline physicians and our other licensees. We also licensed physician assistants, medical radiologic, technologists, respiratory care practitioners, acupuncturists, surgical assistants, and I’m sure I’m leaving one out, but we licensed about 160,000, total licensees, 90,000 of whom are physicians. And we do exercise oversight over them. So, we licensed them, we make sure they keep up with their continuing education, and we also, when necessary, investigate complaints that we receive and take disciplinary action as appropriate.

Joel Eisenbaum:

In terms of the body of the Texas Medical Board, what is it composed of? How often do you meet? How does it all work?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

For the medical board, specifically dealing with physicians, there are 19 board members - 10 of them are physicians or their medical doctors or osteopathic doctors. The rest remain are public members. They’re all appointed by the governor to the board. They are subject to confirmation by the legislature, but they’re all appointed by the governor. And we meet in-person or during COVID by Microsoft Teams five times a year.

Joel Eisenbaum:

Five times a year. It’s a lot of people to manage and a lot of things to review for meeting just five times a year.

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

Well, it can be. The meetings are full. They do meet for two days, and each time they break into committees. So, you have a licensure committee, you have a disciplinary process committee, and then you have the full board that meets on Friday. They can process several 100 actions over those two days.

Joel Eisenbaum:

How do, you know... I’m not trying to trip you up, but we’ve come across some doctors and we have questions about one of them who has been convicted of a federal crime and is awaiting sentencing. Literally has to report to prison coming up here in a month or two. We’re wondering why that guy’s still practicing?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

Well, it does, it can take some time. And that is frustrating for us sometimes. You really kind of have to look at the individual case and the facts of each case because they’re kind of different tracks that these cases can go down. So, the legislature has given the medical board, as well as most licensing authorities, a lot of different tools that you can use to make sure that when one of our licensees does break the law, and they’re found guilty or plead guilty, that we can take an action. Most of those tools we cannot use until the criminal process has come to an end.

Joel Eisenbaum:

This case, though, this doctor who’s in Baytown. I mean, he’s been convicted. He’s literally going to report to prison and he’s still practicing. I mean, I went to his office. He did an interview with me.

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

So, and I obviously can’t talk about any specific case that still may come up for the board. But in that situation that you’re talking about, I think the important thing to note is that in a situation where it might be reported that a physician has been found guilty or pled guilty, there is still some process that goes on. And so, you might have a guilty plea, and then it might be a couple of months before the judge signs that guilty plea. And then as you said, there might be a certain amount of time that passes before that individual has to report to prison.

Joel Eisenbaum:

But in this case, and Chris, I don’t want to cut you off. But in this specific case, he is literally pled guilty. It was a plea deal and he’s been sentenced. I mean, I’ve seen the paperwork. He’s reporting to prison and still practicing.

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

So, what we can do in those situations where you have someone who’s pled guilty and had their sentencing. We still have a process that has to take place at the board. So there’s not an automatic revocation or an automatic suspension. And in a case like that, there are different tools and different scenarios where some things are faster. But normal, the normal process would be once the board learns there’s been a guilty plea or a finding of guilt by a jury, we will obtain the official court documents and records, and then we have to provide notice to the licensee of the specific violations of the Medical Practice Act and give them an opportunity to be heard.

Joel Eisenbaum:

The question is - how big is that gap? Because that’s where the public comes in. How big is the gap there?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

It can take... it does depend on some things. It does that particular process, if somebody pleads, if a physician pleads guilty to a felony or is found guilty by a jury, it doesn’t take maybe a tremendous amount of time for the board to get the documents, but it can take longer, I think than people would think it would. You do need certified copies. A lot of times you’re still talking about things being mailed. It’s not always something that could be faxed or attached to an email. Sometimes it is.

Joel Eisenbaum:

Are we measuring that time period in weeks or months?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

It would be. That part of it would be weeks. But after we get that material gathered together and notify the licensee that we are going to move forward with the disciplinary action, we do have to give them notice. And you could, in theory, do it as quick as 30 days. But to have time to get the hearing members set up and get everything ready to go. It’s more likely 60 to 70 days.

Joel Eisenbaum:

But during that time, though, isn’t it... I mean, that’s our question. And I’m really not. I mean, you’re a lawyer. I’m not gonna outsmart you. But isn’t that gap though, that 60 or 70 days. Or in some cases longer than that. I mean, isn’t that a problem for the public? Isn’t that a problem for the patients who are seeing that doctor?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

It certainly can be. And in certain cases, if there is evidence that they pose an immediate threat to patient health or safety, we do have some authority to take an emergency suspension that would put a licensee out of practice.

Joel Eisenbaum:

How often does that happen?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

We do that anywhere from 40 to 50 times a year.

Joel Eisenbaum:

What does it take for that to happen?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

Well, in a situation like that, we would need to both prove that the violation was more likely than not occurred, and we’d have a second barrier burden that we would have to meet, which is to prove that the licensee poses a continuing and ongoing threat to patient health or safety. And sometimes you can do that. Obviously, if it’s an assaultive offense against a patient, something that’s like a sexual offense against a patient. In many cases that might be present. If you’re talking about something where it’s fraud, sometimes the judge in the criminal case will have put some conditions on the defendant while they’re going through the process that may mitigate the actual harm that was part of the criminal case. So, we weigh that as well to show that there’s a continuing ongoing threat for a financial crime. And that’s not to say there’s no harm to patients or the community, because there definitely is. And we do proceed. And we do try to discipline, including suspended revoked doctors that are found guilty of those violations. But to move it up to that level where you would take an emergency suspension, you would be looking for something a more immediate threat of harm to a patient.

Joel Eisenbaum:

So I’m clear you’re not going to talk about individual doctors with us.

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

Correct.

Joel Eisenbaum:

Got it. So, here’s my question in a theoretical sense. So, this person was convicted of a federal fraud type charge but has a laundry list of problems they’ve had with the Texas Medical Board over the years. I mean, there’s a record there of trouble. Still no emergency action?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

All of those are factors in any case. So, we actually have a board rule that allows us to consider prior discipline action by the board is an aggravating factor. Again, it’s like to think of it in terms of, you know, a pre-deprivation, deprivation due process, or a post-deprivation due process. And if you’re going to take away somebody’s right to practice or their ability to practice medicine, before you’ve given them an opportunity to respond to the allegations, even if they’re guilty of sin, frankly, you do still have to give them some sort of process. And that includes their opportunity to show up and tell their side of the story and ask the board to give them something short of a revocation or suspension. If they think that’s appropriate, that doesn’t mean the board is going to do that. The board may go forward and suspend and revoke the physician and never licensed them again. But it still has to take place after some process. So if you’re going to take that emergency action before you’ve given them the opportunity to answer the allegations, even if it seems to somebody from reading what they’ve read in, you know, in the media or something, that’s a very obvious person’s pled guilty, we still have protections, even in those situations to give people an opportunity to kind of tell their side of the story before the board makes a decision. And again, when you’re talking about prior history with the board, again, it’s important to remember that part of that emergency suspension is to show there’s a continuing ongoing threat.

Joel Eisenbaum:

So that’s the threshold, whether or not you keep your license? I mean, if you are, it seems like you can get in a hell of a lot of trouble before you guys start pulling licenses.

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

And not necessarily, and that’s not the trigger for losing your license. So, if you’re going to take a license, you’re going to actually revoke licenses. All these other things we’ve been talking about, our suspension... they’re temporary actions. Nobody’s permanently suspended. So if we’re going to take a final revocation action that will take place following an administrative hearing at the State Office of Administrative Hearings. So, it’s something that looks a little bit like a trial, except there’s no jury to just be a judge. But you would go through that process. And during that process, there would be discovery, you would have depositions. Maybe you would have motions argued with the judge, and then you have a hearing date, and then you’d have time for the judge to make a decision, and then you would come back to the board. So, that process takes a lot longer.

Joel Eisenbaum:

How long is that from notice to revocation? How long does that take?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

If we’re going to go forward with the full revocation, and not all of that schedule is under our control, because we now have an outside judge, and they have their own scheduling issues that they have to meet. But the quickest it would really ever happen would be about nine to 12 months, and it can take longer.

Joel Eisenbaum:

And what about suspension? If you’re going to put the same sort of number of months on it? I mean, and I know every case is different, and there are variables in there, but in a general sense. So if it’s nine to 12 months for revocation, what is it for suspension?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

So, there are different types of suspension. If we are going to do one of those emergency suspensions that I talked about. There are situations where we can suspend a licensee the same day we find out about the violation.

Joel Eisenbaum:

How often does that happen?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

I hate to give an exact number. I would say fewer than 15 times a year. And then there are, if you’re talking about the suspension, we have the authority to suspend a licensee after they’ve pled guilty or been found guilty by a Trier of fact, a judge, or jury. And then they would stay suspended while we go through that other process.

Joel Eisenbaum:

Got it. I appreciate you answering my questions. This isn’t 60 minutes. And I’ll ask you just a few more, and we’ll be all done. So it seems like you guys really rely on self-reporting to learn about this stuff?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

It depends. So there is another area of the law. That’s kind of the regulation that is changing. So, the legislature has been going back each session and requiring all kinds of occupational licenses, not just those licensed by the medical board to enter the fingerprint system. And then the agencies can subscribe to that database. I believe it’s run by the FBI. And then we get what I call a push notification. It probably has a different term for everybody. But for me, I would call it a push notification. So for some of our licensees, if they get arrested on Tuesday, we’ll get a push notification by Friday.

Joel Eisenbaum:

Why just some licensees?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

So all of our licensees in certain categories are already in that fingerprint system. For physicians, all new physicians are being as they are licensed in Texas. Texas initially goes through that process. They get that fingerprint, and then that system.

Joel Eisenbaum:

Since when?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

I would have to get back to you on when we started that. It’s been several years.

Joel Eisenbaum:

But I mean, they’ve got a lot of doctors who have been practicing for decades. Their fingerprints aren’t in the system, right?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

That’s true. And we do expect, at some point, we will be asked to go back and do that. You’re asking 90,000 physicians, and whatever number of them are not yet in that system, to go get refreshed or fingerprinted and added.

Joel Eisenbaum:

So, in the name of public safety?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

I think it’s important to do it. We are doing it for our physician assistants. We are going through that process right now where they are getting fingerprinted and getting out of that system. All of our medical radiological, technologist, and respite care practitioners are already in that. All of our new licensed positions are in it. And I expect at some point, we will be asked to go back in the interim. We do require physicians to renew every two years. And on those renewals, they are required to answer questions, including whether they’ve been arrested during that timeframe.

Joel Eisenbaum:

But some lie?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

Sorry?

Joel Eisenbaum:

But some lie?

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

While they do, they can also be disciplined for that before providing false information to the board. And we do sometimes learn about it from newspapers and news stories. We do sometimes learn about it from individual complainants. And we do sometimes read it directly from law enforcement, who should make a report to the medical board if they know the individual they’ve arrested has a license. And so we do have several other mechanisms in the interim where we tried to try to learn how that happens. We also have worked with DPS. So at DPS, they can also report if a licensee is arrested to the medical board. There are other ways that we can find out about it. I will say there are times when the first time we learn one of our licensees has been arrested or even convicted, is through a news report. And that frustrates us as well. Because all that means is some of those other safeguards weren’t met. And eventually, we will have everybody in this fingerprinting system so that that doesn’t continue to happen.

Joel Eisenbaum:

I think we’re good, Chris, I really appreciate your time. And unless there’s any parting comment you want to make, I would appreciate the follow-up from you guys in terms of when the fingerprinting system for the newer type doctors was instituted just so I’m complete on that part of it.

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

We can get that for you.

Joel Eisenbaum:

I appreciate it. Thanks a lot, sir.

Christopher Palazola, Texas Medical Board:

Okay.

Joel Eisenbaum:

Thank you. Alright, take care. Bye.

How to check your healthcare professional’s license

Texas Medical Board

Searching this database allows you to view information about physicians, physician assistants, acupuncturists, and other healthcare professionals licensed by the State of Texas, as well as individuals holding temporary licenses or permits. Searching this database will also provide a verification of current licensee data available for medical physicists, medical radiologic technologists, perfusionists, and respiratory care practitioners, who are now regulated by the TMB and each occupation’s respective board/advisory committee.

Athletic Trainers

Behavior Analysts

Cosmetologists

Dietitians

Dyslexia Therapy

Hearing Instrument Fitters and Dispensers

Laser Hair Removal

Massage Therapy

Midwives

Orthotists and Prosthetists

Podiatry

Physical Therapist

Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists