San Diego

San Diego Neurosurgeon Continued Practicing After DUI Conviction

Patients of San Diego Neurosurgeon Rex Rhoten say they are angry he continued to operate and treat them after a drunk driving conviction.

NBC 7 Investigates first reported the DUI conviction in September. 

Rhoten was convicted of drunk driving May 18, 2016, after he crashed his car on his way to work at Kaiser Permanente in February 2016. At the time his blood alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit.

Patients tell NBC 7 Investigates they weren't told and didn't know until it was reported the California Attorney General filed a complaint made with the Medical Board last September. That complaint calls for the revocation of Rhoten's license.

Medical records provided by a patient, who wished to be identified only as Rachael, indicate she underwent back surgery from Rhoten at Kaiser Permanente one month after his 2016 conviction.

Before surgery Rachel said she did her due diligence; she Googled his name, checked the state Medical Board website and asked the physician's assistant.

"I was astonished that a month after a DUI conviction, my neurosurgeon could perform surgery on me without me being aware,” Rachael said.

According to the CHP accident report, obtained by NBC7 Investigates, Rhoten failed his sobriety field tests after crashing his Tesla along a stretch of Via De La Villa in Rancho Santa Fe in 2016.

He reportedly said he had two glasses of wine the night before and slept only three hours, according to the report. A blood draw three hours after the accident indicates Rhoten's blood alcohol level was .26 at the time when he was on his way to the hospital.

"What was really disturbing about it was that he was on call and on his way to work," Rachael said.

CHP Officer Chris Parent made the arrest. He said Rhoten had "red watery eyes slurred speech his inability to handle fine motor skill.”

According to the report, Rhoten told Officer Parent several times, that if he came to the hospital with a gunshot wound to the head, he would look away and not provide care. He also said, "this is going nowhere ...I know several judges," according to the report.

"That's horrifying," Rachael said.

Medical Board of California Spokesperson Christine Valine told NBC 7 Investigates, physicians are required to self-report to the board, arresting officers are required to report a criminal charge against a doctor within 48 hours of an incident and the clerk of court is required to report the outcome of the case.

Valine also said, when and who reported Rhoten's DUI to the board is part of the Medical Board’s investigation and cannot be released.

NBC 7 Investigates found the first notice of Rhoten's DUI crash was posted on the medical board's website in September, more than a year and a half after the accident.

"If there is going to be a year lag time between the offense and notification on the website, that calls their transparency into account,” Rachael said.

Rhoten's employer at the time of the crash was Kaiser Permanente. In September, hospital spokesperson Jennifer Dailard told NBC 7 Investigates, "Dr. Rhoten resigned immediately following the incident. He is no longer employed at the hospital.”

After being contacted by Rachael and hearing her story, NBC 7 Investigates contacted the hospital again. Dailard said, "Kaiser Permanente San Diego first became aware of Dr. Rhoten's challenges in February 2017, at which time he had sought and was receiving treatment. Upon returning to his workplace, he practiced with us for a few months, and during that time, he was carefully monitored and underwent frequent unscheduled substance testing.

He remained sober at work and all patients were treated appropriately. Dr. Rhoten resigned on June 20, 2016.”

Calls made to Rhoten's attorney were not returned.

"The hospital never told me,” Rachael said. “Kaiser never told me. He never told me. The staff never told me.”

Rhoten is serving five years’ probation for his conviction but his license is currently in good standing.

It is unclear if he is practicing or still treating patients. A Medical Board hearing before an administrative judge is scheduled for February 14 and 15 of next year. At that time, it will be determined whether Rhoten's license is revoked, suspended or remains in good standing.

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