Psychiatrist who performed unauthorized research on state hospital patients resigns after notice of disciplinary action

June 15, 2012

A doctor accused of performing unauthorized research at a public psychiatric hospital resigned Friday, one day after state officials accused him of making a DVD in which patients were videotaped against their will and identified without permission.

On Thursday, the Department of State Health Services sent Dr. Allen Childs a "notice of possible disciplinary action," alleging that he published research papers about North Texas State Hospital patients without the department's approval and violated privacy rules when he appeared in a video featuring confidential footage of patients receiving cranial electrotherapy stimulation. Department officials told the doctor he could be fired.

Childs quit the next day. His one-paragraph resignation letter does not reference the disciplinary letter or whether that was a factor in his decision.

Childs, 71, has declined to speak to the American-Statesman and did not respond to an email requesting comment.

The doctor's resignation has little to no practical effect; he is a part-time, hourly employee who has not worked at the hospital in more than 10 months.

Childs first came under fire last month for his studies at North Texas State Hospital on the effects of cranial electrotherapy stimulation on patients with schizophrenia, autism, intellectual disabilities and other disorders. The treatment, which delivers a mild electrical current to the brain through a hand-held device, was used to try to calm violent psychiatric patients at the Vernon hospital.

State Health Services, which oversees 10 public psychiatric hospitals, had no problem with the fact that Childs and other doctors were using the device on patients. In fact, Childs received approval for the treatment by both hospital and agency medical committees, state officials said.

But in 2005 and 2007, Childs published articles in medical journals stating that patients who received the treatment became less aggressive. State officials said those studies should have been, but were not, approved by the agency's Institutional Review Board, which oversees research on human subjects.

In the letter to Childs, officials said the doctor faced discipline over the research issue. The agency also accused the doctor of maintaining an inappropriate relationship with Electromedical Products International, which sold the state the cranial electrotherapy devices used at the hospital. Childs served as the company's medical director while working as a state employee, hospital officials said.

The disciplinary letter also details the unauthorized video of patients receiving the treatment.

According to the letter, Childs gave a lecture in October 2005 at Electromedical Products International's Mineral Wells office titled "Aggressive patients treated with Alpha-Stim at North Texas State Hospital." In that video, the letter states, Childs is speaking to an audience and wearing his state hospital badge. On the video, the audience is shown up-close footage of hospital patients before, during and after the treatment, the letter says.

The disciplinary letter says that the treatment physically hurt one patient and that another was told she had to use the device. The document also says that Childs talked to the audience about patients in a degrading manner. The patients were not present.

"You made numerous disparaging remarks about patients' behavior, demeanor and personal appearance to an audience of individuals not connected with these patients' care and treatment," the letter states. "In at least one instance, you told a patient that she was required to leave the (cranial electrotherapy stimulation) device on for an hour. In another instance, when a patient complained that the CES treatment was hurting him, you acknowledged to your audience that you had turned the machine up too high."

The Statesman has requested but not yet viewed a copy of that video.

"The use of patient images by Dr. Childs in the video is totally unacceptable, and his comments about the images are offensive," said Dr. David Lakey, commissioner for the Department of State Health Services. "It's not what our hospitals are about. Our employees are here to take care of patients with total respect. If that's not happening, they have no business working for us."

It is unclear who made the video, for what purpose it was created or how many copies exist. Scott Elder, vice president of Electromedical Products International, told the Statesman he has not seen the DVD and did not know who made it.

Department officials said the video was discovered several weeks ago in a drawer at North Texas State Hospital by staffers assisting the investigation into Childs' research.

Officials said the video of patients was taken at the hospital for clinical purposes and that Childs was not allowed to use it for any other reason. One patient on the recording expressly told staffers to stop taping her, said Beth Mitchell, a lawyer with Disability Rights Texas, a federally funded advocacy group that has access to patient records.

"They actually lie and suggest they had stopped the videotaping when they had not," said Mitchell, who saw the recording Tuesday.
Now State Health Services is demanding that Electromedical Products International return any patient footage it possesses and track down any copies it may have distributed. Electromedical Products International has agreed to do so.

"The June 11, 2012, letter indicates that Dr. Childs lacked the apparent needed authority to provide the video, which EPI was not aware of until receipt of the letter," Elder said in comments to the Statesman. "The video (State Health Services) was referring to was made in 2005 or earlier, and EPI does not use such video in any of its marketing efforts or in any other manner. As such, EPI is happy to comply with the (State Health Services) request and cease any use of the video."

Childs has worked at different facilities within the state hospital system almost continuously since 1981, including those in Austin, Terrell and Kerrville.

Personnel records provided by State Health Services provide an inconsistent picture of Childs' work history.

In 1999, the psychiatrist was demoted from his clinical director position at Terrell State Hospital to a different job at the facility. A letter in his file notes the reassignment but does not detail the reasons behind it.

"Please be assured that this reassignment is no reflection on your clinical skills, but is being made in the best interest of the patients we serve," the hospital superintendent wrote at that time.

The next month, Childs quit. In August of that year, North Texas State Hospital Superintendent Jim Smith announced in a memo to the staff that Childs had been hired at the facility to supervise psychiatric care on several units.

In 2001, the Texas Medical Board sanctioned Childs for inappropriately prescribing medicine to a patient and for failing to keep proper records, documents state. The board order does not say when or where that incident took place. The board restricted his license for four years, requiring him to keep more detailed records, attend a pain management class and make other improvements.

Childs seemed to do well at North Texas State Hospital, where supervisors regularly praised his work ethic, personality and leadership in implementing the cranial electrotherapy stimulation.

"It is staff like him who make our system of care truly exceptional," a supervisor wrote in the psychiatrist's 2006 performance review. "He has been a role model for me and many other DSHS employees."

Source: Andrea Ball, "Doctor accused of unapproved research at state hospital quits," Austin American Statesman, June 13, 2012.


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