A recent poll found most physicians said that patients have less trust in their doctors than they did 10 years ago.
Some of what lies behind that eroding trust are the doctors who generate negative headlines with their misconduct. Instead of casting doctors in a positive light, their stories lead patients to see doctors as greedy and dishonest. Those doctors put their own interests ahead of their patients’ needs.
Doctors who generate bad publicity, tarnish their reputations and often end up guilty of criminal charges undermine trust in both healthcare professionals and confidence in the system.
Doctors and practices made this year’s list for a variety of reasons: the deaths of patients from opioid overdoses, sexual assaults against patients, defrauding government and private insurers and more.
In this report, you’ll read about the actions of doctors who made headlines in 2017 for all the wrong reasons.
Ricardo Cruciani, Philadelphia
Cruciani, who specialized in rare, complicated syndromes, pleaded guilty last month to assaulting seven patients at a Philadelphia clinic. The 63-year-old doctor admitted he assaulted seven women while he was chairman of Drexel University’s neurology department and pleaded guilty to charges of indecent assault and harassment by unwanted physical contact. Under a plea agreement he won't face prison time, but will serve seven years' probation, register as a sex offender and forfeit his medical license.
Robert Gene Rand, Reno, Nevada
Rand, 54, a physician who operated Rand Family Care, was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter of a patient and unlawful distribution of oxycodone. In addition to the prison term, he was ordered to pay a $25,000 fine and almost $12,000 in restitution to the family of his 33-year-old patient Michael Yenick, who died of an overdose in October 2015.
Family members of patients who died under Rand’s care provided heart-rending testimony during the sentencing hearing, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. A relative of Yenick described Rand as “a monster with a stethoscope.”
David Ming Pon, Leesburg, Florida
Pon was sentenced to 10 years in prison in March for cheating Medicare out of nearly $10 million by intentionally misdiagnosing patients and then giving them phony laser treatments.
Aria O. Sabit, Detroit
Sabit was sentenced in January to nearly 20 years in prison for his role in a $2.8 million healthcare fraud scheme in which he caused serious bodily harm to patients by performing unnecessary invasive spinal surgeries.
He billed insurers, but never installed the devices during surgery. Some patients still in pain after the surgery found out about Sabit’s deceit when they sought care from other doctors.
Henry Wetselaar, Las Vegas
Wetselaar, a 93-year-old doctor who practiced as a specialist in pain management, was sentenced in August to 10 years in prison for his role in a pill mill conspiracy. He was sentenced for distributing large quantities of prescription opioids, including oxycodone and other controlled substances, without a medical purpose and was ordered to pay a $2.5 million fine.
Following a 10-week trial, a jury in March found Wetselaar guilty on a number of drug and money laundering charges. According to the indictment against him, the doctor performed house calls and maintained a medical practice, conspiring with his medical assistant and local drug dealers to distribute the drugs he prescribed in and around Las Vegas.
Chris Christensen, Florence, Montana
Christensen was found guilty last month on charges that included two counts of negligent homicide related to the overdose deaths of two of his patients.
A jury found the 69-year-old doctor guilty on 22 charges that also included 11 counts of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs and nine counts of criminal endangerment. Christensen’s lawyer said the doctor plans to appeal those convictions after he is sentenced later this month. The maximum sentence is more than 400 years in prison, according to the county attorney who prosecuted the case.
Leonard Van Gelder, Detroit
Van Gelder pleaded guilty in March for his role in a $17.1 million Medicare fraud scheme in which he made medically unnecessary physician visits and wrote prescriptions for unnecessary narcotics, such as Vicodin. He was one of three doctors charged in the scheme.
Asim Hameedi and Emad Soliman, Bayside, New York
Hameedi, who runs City Medical Associates in Bayside, New York, was arrested in March and charged in a $50 million fraud scheme. Law enforcement also charged Emad Soliman, M.D., a neurologist who once worked at Hameedi’s clinic, along with four other employees or associates.
Abdul Haq, Ypsilanti, Michigan
Haq, 72, pleaded guilty in October to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud for his role in a $19 million scheme involving three providers. His sentencing is scheduled for next May.
As part of the conspiracy, Haq admitted Rashid also directed him and other physicians to require that patients undergo medically unnecessary facet joint injections to obtain the prescriptions for controlled substances.
Valentina Kovalienko, Brooklyn, New York
Kovalienko, who owned the Prime Care on the Bay and Bensonhurst Mega Medical Care clinics in Brooklyn, New York, was sentenced to seven years in prison in September for her role in a $55 million health fraud scheme.
The 47-year-old from Brooklyn was also ordered by a U.S. District Court judge to forfeit more than $29 million. Kovalienko pleaded guilty in October 2015 to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
As part of her guilty plea, she admitted that her co-conspirators paid cash kickbacks to patients to induce them to attend her two medical clinics to undergo physical and occupational therapy or diagnostic tests and for office visits.
Johnny Trotter, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Trotter, 42, was sentenced in November to 15 years in prison for his part in a $26 million healthcare fraud scheme that involved billing Medicare for nerve block injections that he never provided. A Detroit area doctor, he also made efforts to circumvent Medicare’s investigation of the fraudulent scheme by creating sham medical practices and recruiting family members and employees to serve as straw owners of the companies, prosecutors said.
He and a co-conspirator, who owned a Michigan billing company, were each ordered to pay over $9 million in restitution.
James Tiffany, Minneapolis
A Minneapolis eye surgery company, Sightpath Medical and TLC Vision Corporation, and its former CEO, James Tiffany, agreed in August to pay more than $12 million to resolve allegations of kickbacks to doctors in exchange for their business.
The settlement was reached to resolve kickback allegations under the False Claims Act.
According to a complaint brought by a whistleblower, Sightpath and Precision Lens paid kickbacks to physicians in various forms, including travel, entertainment and improper consulting agreements. The trips included luxury ski vacations and high-end fishing, golfing and hunting trips.
The complaint alleged the items were provided in order to get physicians to use Sightpath Entities’ and a company called Precision Lens’ products and services.
Stephen F. Serbin and Victoria Serbin, Columbia, South Carolina
The Serbins, who owned Family Medicine Centers of South Carolina, a chain of family practice centers, agreed in September to pay the government $2 million to settle alleged False Claims Act violations.
Family Medicine Centers agreed to pay $1.56 million to resolve a lawsuit, alleging it submitted false claims to Medicare and TRICARE. Stephen Serbin, a doctor, principal owner and former CEO if the firm, and Victoria Serbin, its former laboratory director, agreed to pay $443,000 to resolve the lawsuit.
The settlements resolve allegations that Family Medicine Centers submitted claims to Medicare that violated the Stark Law, which prohibits a clinic from billing Medicare for certain services ordered by physicians who have a financial relationship with the entity. In this case, the government alleged the chain violated the law by its incentive compensation plan that paid doctors a percentage of the value of laboratory and other diagnostic tests they ordered through FMC.