This morning the Tennessean reported
that Visuvalingam Vilvarajaha, a Nashville doctor who wrote mass prescriptions for narcotics to patients who didn't need them--including painkillers for a pregnant woman who's baby was born addicted to drugs--had served five years in prison for a double murder back in 1986.
Perhaps the most egregious part of this is that the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners reinstated Vilvarajaha's license after he got out of jail.
I've written a few times about the incompetence of this board. In 2006, the Scene wrote a cover story
on Nashville diet doc Richard Feldman. In that case, the TBME had sworn testimony form prostitutes saying tat Feldman visited brothels and exchanged his services as a doctor for sex. He also had sex with a 17-year-old patient and was verbally and physically abusive to patients and staff.
In response, the TBME gave him a small fine and sentenced him to treatment for sex addiction, treatment which he did not immediately complete. Yet his license was not revoked and he received no further penalty.
More recently, Feldman was accused of engaging in misleading advertising. Once again, the medical board had a hearing and took no action.
Getting documents from medical board spokeswoman Andrea Turner was like pulling teeth and their rules regarding the release of information does far more to protect doctors than patients.
When reporting the Feldman story, I spoke with a Dr. Arthur Caplan, Chair of the Dept. of Medical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania and a former member of the New York state medical board.
He told me that Tennessee is not alone in having an impotent medical board.
"The problem with medical boards is that they see their jobs as to keep doctors in practice, not to protect the public," Caplan said. "These boards look at doctors as their colleagues," he says. "The first priority of the medical board is, 'Let's not take this resource offline.'"
Hopefully now we will have some real regulation in Tennessee. If not, more murderers and drug dealers will be donning lab coats and stethoscopes, asking you where it hurts