UNLICENSED CLINICS: Infant’s Death Raises Call For Scrutiny
Outraged by the death of a toddler at an unlicensed clinic where the child was treated by a man impersonating a doctor, "Orange County's Latino community called Tuesday for an investigation into private clinics that cater to the immigrant population." Amin David, president of Los Amigos of Orange County, said, "We must have a mechanism by which these very critically important so-called clinics are checked into." However, the Los Angeles Times reports that "at this point, no agencies are planning to look into whether there are more medical clinics operating with unlicensed personnel." Under state law, physicians can open a clinic without a license, but the Consultorio Medico was licensed to a man without a medical license (Richardson, 4/29).
"California medical officials said illegal, unlicensed medical practitioners and clinics, like the one in Santa Ana where 13-month-old Christopher Martinez was treated before he died, are common throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties," the Orange County Register reports. According to Felix Rodriguez, supervising investigator for the California Medical Board in Orange County, the proprietors of the clinics, which cater to immigrants, "are often immigrants themselves, some with medical training or a license from another country." They purchase "antibiotics, blood-pressure medication and tranquilizers" in Tijuana, and "practice at home or in low-rent storefronts, spreading the word among uninsured immigrants that they provide fast, cheap care" (Kowalczyk/Collins, 4/28). The Times notes that no state or local regulatory boards or authorities monitor the quality of care at such clinics. According to the Medical Board of California, "it lacks the investigators to conduct such an inquiry." Rodriguez said, "We don't have the staff resources to make a sweep of the county to see who is licensed and who is not." According to David Thornton, supervising investigator for the state medical board, "The state does investigate when it receives complaints" (4/29). He said the state receives some 250 to 300 complaints a year about "possible unlicensed doctors." However, Rodriguez noted it is often impossible to track down the complaints because often the clinics will move or hire a licensed doctor (Kowalczyk/Collins, Orange County Register, 4/28). Santa Ana officials said "the city was responsible only for issuing a business license ... not overseeing the clinic's medical practices." And, the Times reports, "the Anaheim office of the state Department of Health Services, which licenses and certifies medical facilities, only has oversight for nonprofit clinics" (4/29).
The Search Continues
Local police are still searching for Gamliel Moreno, the clinic employee who treated Christopher Martinez. At the same time, stories were circulating about other suspicious incidents at the clinic. "Barbara Antoci, manager of Bruce Metal & Salvage in Santa Ana, said she reported the 'doctors' at Consultorio Medico ... to state officials a year ago because they repeatedly misdiagnosed one of her employees," the Register reports (Kowalczyk/Collins, 4/28). In addition, a "34-year-old woman with severe, long-term vaginal bleeding said two purported doctors at Consultorio Medico told her her condition was normal and sent her home with Tylenol," the Orange County Register reports. According to police, Morena impersonated a doctor "for more than a year at the clinic." The police and the state medical board shuttered the clinic on Friday (Luna, 4/27). Today's Los Angeles Times features an article on how patients can find out if their doctor is licensed, noting the consumers can call the Medical Board of California at (916) 263-2382 (4/29).