The Shadow Practice Part 2: New owners can't exorcise ghosts of clinic's past
Cash-only clinics in immigrant communities can be revolving doors. One shady provider gets shoved out, and another steps right in.
When Dr. Andrew Rutland was allowed to return to medicine in 2007 after serving five years of probation for Medical Board of California charges related to the deaths of two babies, he was prevented from practicing alone. The Oct. 25, 2007 order by the medical board is clear: "Petitioner is prohibited from engaging in the solo practice of medicine."
So Rutland looked for a place where he could set up shop with other doctors and start luring patients who would not have read about him in the morning paper.
He found an empty clinic on the outskirts of San Diego in Chula Vista at 1550 Broadway.
The address had been the site of Clinica Medica para la Mujer de Hoy. Loosely translated, that means "The Modern Woman's Clinic."
The woman who ran it was Bertha Bugarin. Born in Mexico, Bugarin spoke the language of her immigrant clientele. Wearing a white coat that gave her the appearance of a medical professional, she performed abortions without a medical degree. Women complained that they suffered severe pain, bleeding and other complications.
The doctors who worked for Bugarin were much not much better. Thomas Larson at The San Diego Reader did an incredible job documenting the misdeeds of the doctors who served as on-call abortion specialists at the Broadway clinic and the other clinics in Bugarin's network. (Yes, she had a network of clinics, some of which brought in half a million dollars a year.)
Here's just one example from Larson's story, the case of Dr. Lawrence Reich:
Soon after Reich received his license in 1979, he began fondling patients and asking them inappropriate questions about their sex lives. In 1982, the osteopathic medical board accused him of sexually abusing four patients and gross negligence and incompetence in respect to two pregnant patients. Later that year, the board ordered Reich to undergo psychiatric evaluation and suspended his license for 180 days, then put him on ten years' probation, requiring a third person be in the room when he was examining women.
In 1999 and 2000, two women said that Reich fondled their genitals, then gave the women his home phone number; one incident occurred at the Family Planning Medical Center in Santa Ana, another of Bugarin's clinics. Two years later he pleaded no contest in criminal court to one count of sexual exploitation by a physician, a misdemeanor, and was put on one year's probation.
But it wasn't until 2004 that the osteopathic medical board accused Reich of sexual misconduct in the case. A year later, in response to dozens of complaints to her office, Senator Barbara Boxer entered the fray. She called on the board to suspend his license. :I understand,: she wrote, :that an Administrative Law Judge will hold a hearing in February 2006 regarding the June 2000 complaints nearly six years after the original complaints that triggered this latest process.: Boxer's demand went nowhere: a spokesman said that though the case was slow, Reich was entitled to due process.
Reich finally surrendered his license in 2006, but that did not stop him from continuing to perform abortions. He was arrested in February 2008 and charged with three felony counts of practicing medicine without a license. He cut a plea deal and received five years' probation, 365 days of electronic monitoring and a $5,125 fine.
Bugarin had a much stiffer penalty. After repeated complaints from patients – including one who was treated by Bugarin and decided against an abortion only to have the baby die following a premature birth – Bugarin was charged with practicing medicine without a license. She was sent to prison for three years and four months.
The office she left behind did not stay empty long. Soon Rutland moved in, gave the place a facelift and put up a friendly new sign: A Woman's Choice Family Planning Clinic.
Next: How one of this clinic's founders made money playing a deceitful game