Longform

Dr. Steven Hotze's Weird War Against the Texas Medical Board

It's October 23, 2007, and one of the most powerful men in Houston Republican circles is telling the president of the Texas Medical Board she needs a spanking.

Dr. Steven Hotze is testifying before the State House Committee on Appropriations, accusing Dr. Roberta Kalafut of running the medical board like the Gestapo. Hotze, a physician who serves a clientele composed almost exclusively of über-affluent women, alleges that Kalafut flipped out during a board hearing he attended.

"You stood up and made an ass out of yourself!" Hotze proclaims from his seat behind a table that's facing a panel of legislators. "It was horrible. If I hadn't been in such a precarious situation, I would have given you a good tongue-lashing — you deserved it! Your momma needed to take you over her knee, is what she needed to do."

Exit Kalafut. The Abilene spine specialist books out of the room, which is filled mostly with Hotze's allies, and makes a beeline to the ladies' room, where she promptly loses it. Hotze's diatribe came about nine hours into an 11-and-a-half-hour ambush of Kalafut and fellow board members and staff. What was to have been a routine appropriations hearing turned out to be a Trojan horse for disgruntled physicians who believed they had been unfairly targeted by a rogue board bent on driving them out of business.

Hotze was especially ticked that the board had the nerve to go after his pal Dr. William Rea, a Dallas physician, just because the guy injected an allergy patient or two with "homeopathic" antigens the board originally thought were derived from diesel fumes and jet fuel. Hotze believed Rea – who claimed to heal upwards of 30,000 people during his career – deserved a Nobel Prize. And now his friend was being hounded by the medical board.

And Rea's not alone. There's the poor, innocent neuropath who found himself in the medical board's crosshairs just because he left an anesthetized patient with an open surgical site in the operating room for 12 minutes without an attending physician while he hit the cafeteria chow line. There's the ob-gyn who told a patient suffering from female sexual dysfunction that he needed to examine her throat in order to determine whether she had had oral sex. The family-practice physician who led police officers on a high-speed chase, saying she was afraid the medical board had sent them after her. Victims, all.

The anti-board physicians' demands were clear: no more anonymous complaints that they said deprived doctors of due process. No more "star chamber proceedings held in secret," as Hotze says. No more intimidation, no more draconian disciplinary actions over trivial matters. Also, Kalafut and her cronies had to go. Whoever would be installed in their places would require greater oversight, so that healers of men could inject their patients with distilled jet fuel in peace. There should be a Texas medical oversight committee, whose members would be appointed by legislators.

Kalafut is missing all this, because she's unleashing a cascade of profanity upon a hapless aide to Governor Rick Perry who has found her in the hallway and who is trying to apologize. Kalafut doesn't need this malarkey. It's a volunteer position that causes her to be away from her medical practice 30 days a year, with the belief that she can help protect patient safety, and here she is, set up like a bowling pin.

But when she leaves the Capitol building, she won't be leaving the battle behind. The Arizona-based Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a far-right group whose medical journal publishes articles claiming HIV does not cause AIDS and decrying sweaty, coughing, leprosy-carrying illegal immigrants as a public health threat, has sued the Texas Medical Board — and Kalafut individually — over alleged jackbooted tactics.

The litigation will span six torturous years and will last beyond Kalafut's term as president. She will consider it an attempt by a fringe group to decimate the medical board and strip it of any real power to discipline doctors who are a threat to public safety. Before it ends, one physician will pin her husband's suicide on the board's incessant hounding; legislators will take an unusual, personal interest in the disciplinary actions against an associate of Hotze's; and Kalafut's reputation will be attacked.

There's a lot of weirdness to cover. You may want to take 12 to grab a bite.
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In 2002, the Dallas Morning News ran a series of scathing articles exposing the Texas Medical Board's laissez-faire approach toward physicians addicted to drugs, physicians addicted to having sex with their own patients, and straight-up quacks.

Also that year, Perry appointed Kalafut to the medical board. A year later, the state legislature enacted tort reform, which put caps on awards in malpractice cases.

"During my Senate confirmation hearings, I came away with the impression that if the Legislature was going to pass tort reform, which the physicians wanted, we at the Medical Board would have to step up to the plate and regulate our own," Kalafut explains in an email to the Houston Press. " We had to increase our disciplinary efforts and report on a regular basis our stats to the Legislature and any legislator that requested them."

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow