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California Hospitals, Docs Accused of Lucrative Spine Surgery Scam

They're accused of using cheap knock-off implants, raking in millions.

Published: October 21, 2014

A former hospital executive accused of masterminding a lucrative scheme to implant cheap counterfeit screws and hardware in spine-surgery patients is being sued, along with numerous former business partners, by dozens of former patients, according to news reports.

Michael Drobot, formerly the owner of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach (Calif.), is accused of bribing physicians and others to refer workers' compensation patients to his hospital, of using hardware manufactured in a local machine shop, and of charging as much as $12,500 for screws that cost as little as $300 to make. He was indicted earlier this year, after being accused of bribing a state senator to protect the alleged $500 million scam.

Last Friday, 28 former patients signed onto a lawsuit in Los Angeles, targeting — in addition to Mr. Drobot — Pacific Hospital, Riverside (Calif.) Community Hospital, Spinal Solutions LLC of Murrieta, Calif., Orthopedic Alliance of Murrieta, Calif., Jack H. Akmakjian, MD, Gurvinder S. Uppal, MD, Khalid Ahmed, MD, and Crowder Machine & Tool Shop of Temecula, Calif., which allegedly manufactured the counterfeit hardware.

There are now a total of 32 pending suits filed by former patients, and lawyers say there may be thousands more "in Southern California and elsewhere who [have] such counterfeit, non-FDA approved medical devices implanted into their bodies as a consequence of the systematic pattern of fraud and deceit."

Among the plaintiffs is a patient who says that when hardware was removed from her body after she developed complications related to lumbar fusion surgery in 2008, the lot numbers on the removed devices didn't match those on the delivery slips. Instead, she says, what was removed were non-FDA-approved knock-offs.

Terree Bowers, a lawyer for Mr. Drobot, says the accusations are false, telling a Los Angeles news outlet that Mr. Drobot and Pacific Hospital "had absolutely nothing to do with allegations concerning the counterfeit screws." Mr. Bowers did not immediately respond to a request for further comment from Outpatient Surgery Magazine.

Jim Burger

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