The DEA says Dr. David Chao wrote himself illegal prescriptions more than a hundred times between 2008 and 2010. The California state medical board says he's an alcoholic and needs psychiatric help. Four former football players have sued Chao for malpractice, claiming he ended or shortened their careers.
The San Diego Chargers, meanwhile, are bringing Chao back for his 14th season as the team's head physician.
In addition to his NFL duties, Chao is the chief medical officer for the X Games and has been employed by the WWE, USOC, and countless pro athletes. Maybe it's worth certain headaches for them to retain the services of one of the preeminent orthopedic surgeons in the country. But with a rap sheet to rival those of the NFL's top troublemakers—DUIs, surgeries gone wrong, a raid of his office by the feds in June of last year—it's worth asking the question: Why does this man still have his job?
Chao came to be the Chargers' lead physician when the previous team doctor, Gary Losse, left the medical field altogether amid allegations of prescription drug addiction. Chao, Losse's partner, inherited his colleague's portion of their shared practice, the Chargers job, and seven lawsuits charging that he condoned and facilitated Losse's drug use, letting him get high before operations that went wrong. Chao was cited by the medical board for writing Losse's prescriptions and fined $1,000.
Since then Chao's record has been, if anything, even worse. Chao has been sued 20 times since 1998, over allegations including malpractice, negligence, and fraud. At least eight of those cases have been settled by undisclosed payouts. Four suits that never saw trial concerned former Chargers players (one was settled out of court, three were dropped for various reasons). Ryan Leaf claimed Chao misdiagnosed and mistreated his wrist and shoulder injuries, while safety Greg Jackson said he suffered knee problems after Chao operated on him.
Busy with the scalpel, busy with the prescription pad. Last year federal agents searched Chao's office after learning that he had made out 108 prescriptions to himself since 2008. No one knows what happened to those prescriptions, but Chao was linked to then-Chargers safety Kevin Ellison, who was pulled over with 100 Vicodin pills on him, for which he did not have a prescription. The Chargers denied that Ellison got the drugs from the team, and released him a month later. The DEA's investigation of Chao is ongoing.
Yet none of this got Chao in hot water with his employers or overseers. It was only after he pleaded guilty to a DUI, his second, that the Medical Board of California initiated a hearing on Chao's competency. The complaint, in addition to alleging "misuse" of alcohol, states that Chao failed to disclose his convictions on state forms.
Deputy Attorney General Matt Davis recommended to the board that Chao receive five years of probation, a psychiatric evaluation, and ethics training, saying "sound judgment is part and parcel to the qualifications and duties of a physician. The DUI conviction evidences a problem in that area."
The board is expected to rule in a few months, well after football season starts. When it does, Chao will still be the Chargers' physician, and will be compensated handsomely. The latest contract available shows Chao receiving his own luxury box, a sideline pass, four tickets and special parking for each home game, on top of an annual fee as well as standard insurance payouts for the cases he treats. The Chargers have declined to comment on the medical board's complaint against Chao.
Are there no other competent surgeons in Southern California, ones without consistent and growing records in criminal and civil courts? The San Diego Union-Tribune dutifully reports on him whenever he runs afoul of the law, which is often, but the Chargers' relationship with David Chao ought to be a embarrassment of national levels.