The Texas Medical Board on Thursday took the somewhat rare step of swiftly suspending a Houston doctor's medical license without notice, saying that allowing him to continue practicing medicine would pose “a continuing threat to public welfare.”
The temporary suspension comes after authorities last week charged 43-year-old Shafeeq Sheikh with raping a patient at Ben Taub Hospital. While the allegations against Sheikh are enough to make the skin crawl, one nagging question remains: What took police, prosecutors and the state licensing board so long to act?
The victim, a 27-year-old woman, told hospital staff and police that a doctor skulked into her room on November 2, 2013 after she'd been hospitalized following an asthma attack. In a startling account the woman gave to Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg this week, the woman says the doctor entered her room at least three times, at first groping and then ultimately raping the sedated patient. She frantically pressed the hospital bed's emergency call button but nobody came; hospital staff discovered days later that the button had been unplugged, according to police records.
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The victim says she told hospital officials and police about the assault the very next morning as she awoke from a sedative-induced haze. Apparently hospital staff didn't believe her—at least not at first. In fact, according to the account the victim gave the Chron's Falkenberg, the response from hospital staff illustrates exactly why rape victims are so often reluctant to report an assault. As Falkenberg put it: “She says medical staff responded coldly to her improbable story and seemed to stare and whisper about her, as though she were crazy or lying.” The woman claims that hospital staff wouldn't allow police officers into her hospital room to take a statement and subsequently botched the handling of her rape kit, potentially jeopardizing critical evidence in the case.
Neither hospital staff nor police have yet explained why nearly two years lapsed before police charged Sheikh with sexual assault last week. At the time of the alleged assault, Sheikh was a resident at Baylor College of Medicine, which staffs Ben Taub, but he'd been working at Houston Methodist Hospital since his residency ended with Baylor in June 2014. Houston Methodist suspended Sheikh after he was charged last week, and police clearly believe there could be more victims out there. After Sheikh turned himself in last Friday, the Houston Police Department publicly asked for anyone else who may have been assaulted by Sheikh to come forward.
According to records filed after Sheikh was charged, hospital records show that Sheikh used his hospital ID to access the floor where his victim was staying some 12 times the night was assaulted. Records state DNA recovered recovered from the victim's rape kit likely matches Sheikh's.
With that kind of evidence, it's all the more puzzling Sheikh wasn't identified and questioned by both police and state medical board officials after the allegations surfaced. If hospital records and rape-kit evidence didn't convince police, prosecutors and state regulators to take swift action after a hospital patient claimed she was raped by a doctor, what was it that ultimately did?