Pain clinic raises questions

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Business advertised, attracts visitors from hours away

By Stephen Lega

A new pain management clinic is open for business in Lebanon, but no one involved seems to want to talk about it.

Official documents filed on behalf of the business also appear to contain inaccurate information.

Norma Thomas, one of the business owners, was hesitant to discuss the business last week. Dr. Najam Azmat, who confirmed that he worked at the clinic, declined to answer questions when contacted, and visitors who drove more than 80 miles to visit the pain clinic did not want to be interviewed.

Lebanon Medical Solutions has billed itself as "specializing in complete pain management," according to newspaper advertisements. Although the business is located at 110 Lebanon Trade Center, it has not advertised in Marion County, nor has it advertised in neighboring counties. Instead, it has advertised in The Morehead News and The (Olive Hill) Journal-Times. Morehead is approximately 130 miles and nearly two and a half hours from Lebanon. Olive Hill is almost 150 miles away, according to Google maps.

On Sept. 2, Lebanon Medical Solutions had visitors from 80 and 100 miles away.

Neither Thomas nor Dr. Azmat would provide much information as of press time about the nature of their business. However, Tracy Bias, another owner, previously pled guilty to at least one drug charge in Ohio, and another pain clinic for which he is the registered agent was raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Drug Enforcement Administration earlier this year.

Lebanon Medical Solutions is owned by Bias, Thomas and Christopher Rhoden, according to the business license filed with the City of Lebanon in April.

Bias is the registered agent for Southern Ohio Complete Pain Management, a pain clinic in Portsmouth, Ohio, according to articles of incorporation filed with the Ohio Secretary of State. The Enterprise called that pain clinic at the number listed with the Better Business Bureau, but no one answered the phone and there was no way for the Enterprise to leave a message requesting a return phone call.

On April 22 and 24, respectively, The Portsmouth Daily Times and The Columbus Dispatch ran news stories about a raid conducted on Southern Ohio Complete Pain Management and Portsmouth Medical Solutions by the FBI, DEA, the Portsmouth Police, the Scioto County (Ohio) Sheriff's Office and Kentucky authorities. According to the Portsmouth Police, the investigation is still ongoing, and the FBI and DEA are leading that investigation.

On May 4, Bias pled no contest to a charge of persistent disorderly conduct stemming from an incident Dec. 16, 2009. This was amended from his original charge of obstructing official business. He was ordered to pay a $100 fine and $114 costs, according to Portsmouth (Ohio) Municipal Court records. That same day, a drug paraphernalia charge and a possession of a controlled substance charge (also from Dec. 16, 2009) were dismissed with a note that Bias pled to the amended charge against him.

Before that, on July 9, 2009, Bias pled no contest to a charge of drug abuse. On that charge he was fined $100 and ordered to pay $109 costs. On that date, Bias was also extradited to Kentucky as a fugitive from justice, according to the Portsmouth Municipal Court records.

Portsmouth Medical Solutions and Southern Ohio Complete Pain Management aren't the first pain clinics to run into issues with the federal government. On Nov. 19, 2009, the Broward County Grand Jury issued an interim report titled "The Proliferation of Pain Clinics in South Florida." Florida pain clinics were also linked to prescription drug trafficking in eastern Kentucky, according to the report. The report further noted that the pain clinics considered "pill mills" differed from legitimate pain clinics. Legitimate pain clinics are associated with hospitals or legitimate pain medicine practices. 

No comments

An Enterprise reporter visited Lebanon Medical Solutions Thursday, Sept. 2. When the reporter entered the office, a woman was speaking to an employee through a window next to the waiting area. The woman said she would step outside to make a phone call. When approached by a reporter while she was sitting in a car a few minutes later, the woman said she was too busy to talk. A man in her passenger seat made no comment. The car had a license plate from Montgomery County, which is 105 miles from Lebanon, according to Google Maps. The woman also drove off after the reporter walked away from her car.

The reporter then approached another car, where two men were waiting. The driver, Jeff, would only give his first name. He said he'd driven his cousin to Lebanon Medical Solutions, and he said this was their first visit. Jeff declined to answer more questions, and the man in the passenger seat also said he didn't want to comment. Jeff and his passenger were in a car with a license plate from Bourbon County, which is more than 80 miles from Lebanon.

It's not unusual for visitors to drive for several hours to reach pain clinics. According to news reports from Florida, it was common for pain clinics in the Sunshine State to have visitors from Kentucky, particularly eastern Kentucky.

And earlier this year, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, who is himself a licensed physician from eastern Kentucky, praised the Florida legislature for approving anti-pill mill legislation. The legislation prohibited the registration of pain clinics unless they were owned by physicians or licensed by non-physicians as a health care clinic. The legislation also strengthened Florida's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.

Mismatched information

Lebanon Medical Solutions filed its articles of incorporation March 18 with the Kentucky Secretary of State. According to those documents, Philip George is the registered agent for the business. A registered agent serves as a company's representative to receive notices of legal proceeding and official government communications.

The articles of incorporation listed 324 Shuck Avenue as the principal office for Lebanon Medical Solutions, which is actually operating at 110 Lebanon Trade Center. The owner of the Shuck Avenue house, Jim Barnes of Richmond, said he was not aware of anyone living there. Ackie George, the real estate agent marketing that house, said no one has lived there since June. She also said that neither Bias, Rhoden nor Thomas were previous residents at that address. Also, the primary contact number listed on the business license belonged to Thomas, according the records at Lebanon City Hall. However, when the Enterprise called that number, and asked for Thomas, the woman who answered said that was not Thomas' number.

During a Sept. 2 visit to Lebanon Medical Solutions, a reporter was told by an employee that she could schedule an interview with Thomas for Wednesday. When the reporter called back later, Thomas answered the phone. When asked if she could talk at that time, Thomas said she would check her schedule about the next Wednesday. However, she did say that Dr. Najam Azmat was the doctor working at Lebanon Medical Solutions.

Azmat was contacted at the phone number listed with the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure. He confirmed that he works for the Lebanon pain clinic.

"I come and work here when the clinic is open," he said.

Azmat declined to answer any more questions, but said he would talk to the Enterprise after the reporter spoke with Thomas.

Azmat's history

According to the information on file with the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, Azmat is a vascular surgeon who graduated in 1982 from Khyber Medical College, which is part of the University of Peshawar in Peshawar, Pakistan. His address is listed as 707 Confederate Way, Waycross, Ga.

Azmat is also a defendant along with Satilla Regional Medical Center in a federal lawsuit. The accusations in the lawsuit stem from accusations made by Lana Rogers, a nurse who was fired from the Satilla Regional Medical Center in Waycross, Ga., that Azmat and the medical center "conspired and combined together to knowingly defraud the Government by getting false or fraudulent claims allowed or paid," according to an amended complaint filed July 21 in United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Waycross Division. The U.S. Attorney's Office has also filed as an intervenor plaintiff.

Specifically, the complaint accuses Azmat and the regional center of submitting false claims to obtain reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid for "worthless" medical services and procedures performed by Azmat. The complaint also reads that nurses at the regional medical center questioned Azmat's competence to perform endoscopic procedures.

Exhibit 3 in the case identifies 13 incidents between Nov. 20, 2005, and Jan. 19, 2006, during which concerns were raised about Azmat's competence to perform the procedures or about the necessity of the procedures being performed by Azmat.