Worthless heart stents, angioplasties and radiation treatment

By The Associated Press
January 1, 2006
Lafayette cardiologist Dr. Mehmood Patel plans to fight federal charges that he performed 94 unnecessary heart surgeries on area patients, his lawyer said Thursday.

Patel, 60, is facing 94 counts of health-care fraud and one count of criminal forfeiture, according to an indictment handed down by a grand jury last month. The indictment previously had been sealed, and U.S. Attorney Donald Washington announced the charges Thursday morning.

"Dr. Patel looks forward to working actively with his lawyers in addressing all of the charges filed against him," said Alexandria attorney J. Michael Small. "He will enter pleas of not guilty to all of the 95 counts and looks forward to his day in court."

Patel is charged with performing angioplasty and stent replacements on patients who did not need them, then billing their insurance companies. These procedures sometimes resulted in artery blockages that required additional surgery, for which Patel would seek further reimbursement from insurance companies, Washington said.

Between 2001 and 2004, Patel defrauded private and public insurers of roughly $2.5 million, the indictment alleges.

The indictment's charge of criminal forfeiture seeks to recover any money Patel may have fraudulently obtained.

The allegedly unnecessary surgeries also have prompted a spate of medical malpractice lawsuits.

Since December 2004, more than 300 people have filed claims, and the cases are waiting for a three-doctor review panel to determine whether the procedures were medically sound, said Opelousas attorney James Ryan, who is heading the litigation.

Ryan said he couldn't comment on the criminal charges, but he said the indictment lends support to his clients' claims. The lawsuits also name as defendants Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and Lafayette General Medical Center, where Patel performed his surgeries.

Ryan said the hospitals should have more closely monitored what its physicians were doing.

"The number of procedures that he was performing at one hospital in particular (Lourdes), greatly exceeded anything that any other cardiologist was doing," Ryan said.

Both Lourdes and Lafayette General revoked Patel's hospital privileges last year, when the claims of unnecessary surgery initially surfaced.

Spokespersons for both hospitals said they are fully cooperating with the federal criminal investigation, but they declined to discuss their role in the civil suits.

Patel still is seeing patients at his office, Acadiana Cardiology. But, his medical license is restricted by the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners - he is not allowed to perform any heart surgeries.

As part of an agreement with the Board, those restrictions will remain in effect until the criminal charges are resolved, Small said.

Patel also was seeing patients in office space he rents from Abbeville General Hospital, Chief Executive Officer Ray A. Landry said.

As a result of the criminal charges, "we'll be evaluating the agreement we have with him," Landry said.

Small said Patel is an energetic and positive person, and "he's functioning as best as he can under the circumstances.

"He presses right on and will continue to do so," Small said.

If convicted, Patel could face up to 20 years in prison. He will appear in court April 27 for an arraignment, where he will enter a formal plea of not guilty.

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