Two outpatient clinics affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN marketing company have temporarily halted Lap-Band weight-loss surgeries, less than one week after Allergan Inc. said it would stop selling the device to companies affiliated with the massive ad campaign.
The New Life Surgery Center in Beverly Hills and Valley Surgical Center in West Hills have stopped performing Lap-Band surgeries while they perform “a top-to-bottom medical and operational review” of their Lap-Band surgery business, the companies said in a statement.
The surgery centers are among several clinics affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN, whose ads for Lap-Band surgery have become fixtures on Southern California roadside billboards, radio, television and the Internet.
At least five patients have died following Lap-Band surgeries at the two locations since 2009, according to lawsuits, autopsy reports and other public records.
“Unfortunately, recent allegations question the safety of the Lap-Band procedures at two centers,” the clinics' statement said. “While we strongly believe these allegations paint a false picture of the care provided and discount our capabilities and success rate, we have stopped scheduling new Lap-Band surgeries at those centers, effective immediately, pending a top-to-bottom medical and operational review.”
Manufactured by Irvine-based Allergan, the Lap-Band is a ring surgically implanted around the stomach to discourage patients from overeating and to help them lose weight. Last week, Allergan said it had decided to stop selling the device to all entities affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN. The company declined to say why it made the decision.
The move followed a report by The Times that the California Department of Insurance was investigating surgery centers affiliated with the ad campaign for alleged insurance fraud. It also came after two former workers filed a whistle-blower lawsuit that alleged unsanitary conditions at the clinics and accused the centers of billing insurers for medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures that were never performed.
On Tuesday, an attorney who co-chairs the white collar criminal defense team for law firm Irell & Manella said he has been retained to represent Michael and Julian Omidi, the brothers who have been mentioned in lawsuits as owners and operators of the 1-800-GET-THIN weight-loss surgery business.
John Hueston, a lead prosecutor in the criminal case against Enron executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, said he was unaware of any criminal investigation of the Omidis or surgery centers. He said his practice includes civil litigation, criminal defense and crisis management.
“It’s a broad representation for all matters arising out of the lawsuits that have been filed with respect to 1-800-GET-THIN,” Hueston said.
In a separate development, an attorney who represents the surgery centers sent a letter to the Los Angeles County coroner defending the treatment of a patient named Paula Rojeski, who died following Lap-Band surgery in September.
The letter challenged allegations in the whistle-blower lawsuit that a series of mishaps contributed to Rojeski’s death.