Flushing officials say the closing down of an illegal Asian clinic in Flushing last week reveals problems with licensing and health care for the uninsured.
On August 16th, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced the arrest of six men on charges of defrauding the Flushing Chinese-American community who sought medical treatment from an illegal, unlicensed clinic at 39-02 Main Street.
The defendants are charged with practicing medicine without a license and three are also charged with assault and reckless endangerment based on medical procedures performed.
The facility had various names, including the New York Beijing Chinese Medical Center, the Beijing Chinese Medical Hospital of New York and World Health Inc.
“While many aspects of traditional Chinese medicine are accepted today by western medical practitioners, it is clear that these defendants, who are not licensed to practice medicine or to operate a medical facility in this state, crossed the line,” Brown said.
“By their own admission, these defendants were engaged in the diagnosis and treatment of serious medical conditions in violation of New York law.”
According to the district attorney, the clinic was owned by one of the defendants, Shou Dong Wang, 42, of 217-05 53rd Street in Bayside, who advertised its services on the Internet and in Chinese language newspapers.
Brown said that the investigation began earlier this year following the filing of a medical malpractice lawsuit in Supreme Court by a Flushing woman who complained that Wang and two other defendants had treated her last November, performing surgery to remove an intra-uterine device and had prescribed herbs to ease the inflammation following surgery.
The woman claimed that she experienced pain and developed an infection which continues to cause her discomfort.
The two others charged in that case were Jing Yi Hao, 41, with the same address as Wang, and Gui Wu Liu, 83, of 92-11 92nd Road, Elmhurst. All three were charged with assault in connection with the surgery and face up to seven years in jail if convicted.
Ironically, the judge presiding over the malpractice suit referred the case to Brown’s office in May, after the three defendants said in court papers that they could not be sued since they were not licensed to practice medicine.
The later investigation included assigning an undercover detective who posed as a patient. The detective went for treatment in June and August and was treated for various ailments by defendant Ying Ming Liu, 71, of 138-56 61st Street, Flushing.
Also arrested at the clinic were Pei-Song Guo, 49, of 41-34 Frame Place in Flushing and Jiu-Song Kan, 31, of 92-45 55th Avenue in Elmhurst.
All face up to four years in jail if convicted on the charges of scheming to defraud and practicing medicine without a license.
In addition, the clinic was closed by city officials after inspectors from the Department of Buildings determined that conditions there were hazardous to public safety.
The clinic allegedly offered orthopedic, oncology, dermatology, internal medicine and women’s and children’s health services.
“They allegedly held themselves out in advertisements as medical specialists in the treatment of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, bone injuries, stroke, allergies and other serious diseases,” Brown said.
“It is alleged that they took fees for treatment under false pretenses and that in so doing also decreased the likelihood that their patients would seek other medical treatment.”
John Watts, aide to Flushing City Councilwoman Julia Harrison, was amazed that the facility was not licensed.
“I wonder how many patients they treated and if there were there any fatalities,” he said.
Noting the large number of herbal storefronts in downtown Flushing , Watts said he believes there are more illegal clinics operating in the area.
“I don’t know who is monitoring them,” he said.
Dr. Robert Crupi, chairman of emergency medicine at Flushing Hospital, said the illegal clinic didn’t surprise him.
“There are a lot of immigrant groups with a lack of insurance, language barrier and cultural beliefs. Going to a hospital emergency room may be an alien concept to them,” he said.
Although he admitted there is a role for alternative medicine such as acupuncture and herbal remedies, Dr. Crupi said there are certain illnesses that need prompt medical treatment from licensed doctors.
“I am not dismissing herbal medicines, they can be cheaper and more accessible but they may not be the proper treatment,” he added.
Dr. Crupi said immigrants need to be educated because they don’t understand the American medical system and that hospitals and government agencies need to do more outreach.
Saying all clinics need to be monitored, Dr. Crupi added that it is difficult to follow some of these clinics “which operate in the shadows and advertise by word of mouth and in foreign language papers.”
John Liu, president of the North Flushing Civic Association, and an announced candidate for the City Council, said clinics that practice medicine must be licensed, “otherwise they need to be stopped and punished.”
But he blamed lack of adequate health care for the proliferation of illegal clinics.
“Many immigrants work at menial jobs without medical health insurance,” he said. “These types of clinics are cheaper and count on word-of-mouth to get patients,” he said.
Liu said this was true of all new immigrant groups, not just Asians, and that such people need access to proper health care.
“I’m sure there are more (clinics) out there,” he added. “Unfortunately there is a demand for these clinics.”
Liu said the federal government bears the responsibility of giving health care access to everyone and that if adequate monitoring of clinics is to be successful, investigators must speak the language “so they know what’s going on.”