CINCINNATI - Attorney Eric Deters says the hospitals where Dr. Atiq Durrani allegedly performed unnecessary spine surgeries - especially West Chester and Children's - should share the blame in what he calls "Exhibit A for Medicare/Medicaid fraud going on in this country."
"The hospitals, Medtronic (world's largest medical technology company) and Dr. Durrani collectively conspired to say, ‘Let's go make some money on spine surgery,' " Deters said after the U.S. Attorney's Office charged the local surgeon with health care fraud Thursday.
"You're talking at least $100,000 (per unnecessary surgery), and it's probably higher than that. You're talking probably $200 million plus in fraud," Deters said.
Deters said he has filed more than 160 civil lawsuits on behalf of Durrani patients. In some cases, Durrani botched their procedures and left them worse off than before, Deters claims.
"It is shameful that Dr. Durrani bounced from Deaconess, Good Samaritan, Christ, Children's – and we know he got kicked out of Children's – and West Chester UC Health," Deters said.
Deters directed his fiercest criticism at West Chester Hospital - a member of UC Health - and Children's Hospital.
"We have a witness that will testify that West Chester UC Health knew about (Durrani's) problems but they needed the money," Deters said. "He does more spine surgeries than everybody in the state of Ohio – a thousand a year – and they needed the money. They decided that money was more important than patient health."
Durrani brought in $7.125 million in Medicare Part A reimbursements for West Chester Hospital UC Health during a 36-month period he performed surgeries there between 2010 and 2013, according to the U.S. Attorney's complaint.
Deters said he is also suing West Chester Hospital UC Health in nearly 100 cases he filed in Butler County.
"I do believe that the United States Attorney's Office is interested in West Chester UC Health's culpability in this case, and Children's' culpability," Deters said.
While Durrani had operating privileges at other hospitals, Children's was the only local hospital that employed him. From approximately January 2005 to 2008, Durrani was an attending orthopedic surgeon there and also was an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati Department of Orthopedic Surgery, according to the U.S. Attorney's complaint.
Durrani resigned from Children's in 2008 and opened a private practice called the Center for Advanced Spine Technologies (CAST). He continued to perform surgeries at different hospitals and at an outpatient surgery facility called JourneyLite in Evendale, where he is part owner.
One by one, Christ, Deaconess and Good Samaritan took away Durrani's operating privileges. Finally, West Chester Hospital banned him last May, the complaint says.
Despite his criticism, Deters said he didn't want to diminish the importance of UC Health and Children's Hospital.
"I understand the significant role Children's Hospital and UC Health play in this community. Thank God, we have UC hospital (sic) and thank God we have Children's Hospital. They're good hospitals," he said. "It doesn't mean, though, that when Children's Hospital and UC Health do something wrong, they shouldn't be held accountable … They acted very, very irresponsibility (sic), and it was all for money."
WCPO Digital contacted the hospital media relations departments asking for a response to Deters' allegations and information about Durrani's service.
Terry Loftus, Sr. Director of Public Relations at Children's Hospital, replied:
"Dr. Durrani resigned as an employee of Cincinnati Children's in 2008. We don't comment on pending litigation."
Joe Kelley, spokesperson for TriHealth, responded:
"Dr. Durrani was never an employee of Good Samaritan Hospital or any other TriHealth owned entity.
"Medical credentialing and peer review records for physicians are confidential under Ohio State law, so therefore I can't comment on this matter."
A contact at West Chester Hospital said she would pass along the request, but no one responded.
Poking fun at himself for his two suspensions from the Kentucky bar, Deters said Ohio lawmakers should require more transparency from doctors and hospitals instead of letting them operate "in secrecy."
"I call upon the Ohio Legislature – you better take a look at the law, because their law protecting bad docs is what led to today. And the law needs to be changed. You know what? Everybody knows about my bar battle in Kentucky. Why? Because it's public. How come complaints against doctors have to be that way (in private)?" Deters said.
Deters accused Durrani of improperly using a Medtronic product called Infuse, also known as BMP-2, in spine surgeries.
Deters said Medtronic paid Durrani and other doctors as consultants.
"It's like a bone-morphogenic protein – no help to a spine person," Deters said. "Medtronic knew Dr. Durrani was putting BMP-2 in children, not supposed to; the thoracic area, not supposed to; the neck area,
not supposed to. It's only FDA-approved for the lower area. And Medtronic knew he was putting BMP-2 in everybody. And guess what? Not telling them.
"None of my clients knew, and by the way - 75 percent of them have BMP-2 in their backs - none of them were told BMP-2 was being put in their backs. You have a four- or five-times increased risk of cancer with BMP-2 in your back. And he didn't tell them that. And Medtronic knew it, the hospitals knew it, and Dr. Durrani knew it."
Saying unnecessary surgeries and insurance fraud destroy lives, Deters thanked the U.S. Attorney for filing charges against Durrani.
"This is a major problem across this country for taxpayers - Medicare/Medicaid fraud ... This has got major consequences to it. You're talking about hundreds, thousands of people that had their lives destroyed by spine surgeries that weren't necessary, so I can't thank them enough for the courage to do this because this is the kind of crime in the past that people got away with," Deters said.
"My guess is if there's another surgeon out there that's going to do a surgery for Medicare/Medicaid fraud that's not necessary, he may think twice because now they're going to say, 'Hey, they will prosecute you.' "
Watch unedited video of Deters' entire news conference in the video player above.