The San Diego Union Tribune – Opinion: California Medical Board Reforms May Not Go Far Enough as One San Diego Case Illustrates


Operating under a bright spotlight, the Medical Board of California — the agency charged with protecting health care patients through licensing, regulation and oversight of doctors and some other medical workers — is sometimes seen as being more interested in protecting medical professionals than in holding those accused of wrongdoing to account. This perception led to overwhelming votes in favor of a bill signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021 that required the state Department of Consumer Affairs to more closely monitor how the board handled complaints and discipline decisions.

But problems persisted, leading to a Senate committee’s unanimous vote on Monday for a bill that would increase the board’s budget to enable more investigations of allegations of wrongdoing by doctors; that would change the makeup of the panel of directors overseeing the board to reduce the influence of physicians who are members; and that would allow for expedited disciplinary action when a doctor is convicted of one of several felonies. There is hope that the bill could provide a level of oversight that reformers have sought for years.

But the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group says the details of one local case show an important fix is needed. On April 10, Dr. Carlos Chacón, a Bonita plastic surgeon, pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder brought by the county District Attorney’s Office stemming from the 2019 death of patient Megan Espinoza. Prosecutors initially charged Chacón with voluntary manslaughter in 2021. They allege that a 911 call was not placed for three hours after Espinoza went into cardiac arrest during breast augmentation surgery. She never woke up, and she died six weeks later.

At issue: Consumer Watchdog says Chacón’s patients should have been notified as soon as he faced criminal charges, but many doctors say this would destroy their reputations whatever the result of subsequent trials and that other professions don’t face similar treatment. What’s needed is an analysis to show whether accused doctors have been a danger to their patients. If that’s the case, Consumer Watchdog’s argument would get stronger.

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