A Doctor’s Scam

If you are an individual living with a permanent disability, I’m sure you’ve been approached by countless of individuals guaranteeing they can “cure” you, or they have something to offer no one else has to significantly help you.

I stay away from the “cure” folks. While I do believe healing takes place through individuals who have a gift from a higher power, enabling them to tap into resources the average human being cannot, many charlatans do exist.  Out of the people who declare themselves mediums and healers, I think one out of a thousand  are truly gifted.

Individuals with severe disabilities or people dealing with a terminal illness are unfortunate targets for such charlatans.  People will pay extraordinary amounts of money to someone who says they have a cure nobody else does.  I’ve sadly witnessed it many times.

It’s immoral enough if an individual falsely claims they have healing powers.  When a doctor, however, not only preys upon the sick and disabled to offer them false healing modalities, but actually manipulates them into signing their insurance benefits over to him, that is pure evil.

I lived in L.A. for five years.  While I was there, I attended a physical therapy clinic called the “PEERS” program.  It was run by a Dr. Burns out of a small brick building in Beverly Hills.  The “PEERS” program swore it enabled all levels of spinal cord injuries to stand and take steps, using ground breaking physical therapy and something called an RGO Brace.

The “groundbreaking” physical therapy was a single physical therapist, overworked and underpaid.  There were a few physical therapy assistants who attempted the same exercises the physical therapist did. Only one of the assistants had a bit of physical therapy training… The rest were kids hired from Taco Bell.

Depending on what type of insurance you had determined who you got to work with.  At the time, I had private health insurance,  so I worked with the actual physical therapist.  Tens of thousands of dollars was paid to the clinic for my treatment.  Another $30,000 was spent on equipment, which was never even used on me.

There was an interesting mix of patients at the PEERS Program.  Some folks were from all over the country, and some were locals.  Some people were quite wealthy, and others were former gang members, shot in the spinal cord.

I had private insurance, so I received the V.I.P. treatment… Or the clinics version of it, anyway.  Although none of the charges came out of my pocket, I did see statements from my insurance company on what they paid for and how much it was.

I began to wonder how some of the people attending PEERS paid for the services they received. I knew some other folks had private insurance, but I also knew some folks who took a two hour bus ride in a wheelchair for their commute to PEERS because they couldn’t afford a vehicle.

Things just didn’t add up.  I asked over and over again when I would be using the leg braces my insurance company had purchased. Since being purchased, they sat in a corner of the clinic, collecting dust.  I was told over and over again I had to get strong enough to use them.

When would that be? What had to get stronger?  My trunk, my chest, my arms? The day I left PEERS for good, I had yet to receive an answer to those questions.

I was a PEERS patient for almost three years.  My insurance company spent over $600,000 there, and I worked very hard.  I got stronger because I exercised.  The brace was something Dr. Burns knew I could never functionally use and was simply a moneymaker for the program because insurance companies would purchase them.

Other things didn’t make sense, either. Patients who were working side-by-side with me would suddenly stop coming to the clinic, and were never heard from again.  I knew they had not completed the PEERS Program because their own braces were in the same corner mine were, collecting dust.  A patient of the PEERS Program “graduated” when they were able to ambulate using their custom-made, Orthotic RGO brace.

I received a phone call one evening after a day at PEERS.  It was from a woman who brought her daughter to PEERS and had suddenly stopped coming.  In a nutshell, she explained Dr. Burns kept people at PEERS until their insurance ran out.

He had absolutely no intention of getting an individual strong enough to make using the walking braces a possibility.  She said he knew right off the bat 90% of his patients were not brace candidates anyway due to the severity of their injury, and I was one of them.

The next piece of information she told me made me ill.  In California, if you were shot in a gang-related incident, the state gave you $25,000 worth of health insurance if you did not have a felony in your background.

Dr. Burns payed an individual working at the largest rehabilitation hospital near L.A. to tell him of all the gang-related shootings in the area.  Dr. Burns would then personally visit the individual in the hospital, state insurance forms in tow.

He explained to the newly injured individual he ran a ground breaking physical therapy center in Beverly Hill, specializing in people with spinal cord injuries.  Dr. Burns took advantage of people in an emotionally fragile state and had them sign away the only health insurance they had over to him.

I was shocked after hearing all of this. I liked the woman who was sharing this information with me very much, and I told her I appreciated she cared enough to warn me.  She said she couldn’t sleep anymore without me knowing, and I was to do with the information what I wished.

A physical therapy assistant from the clinic was going to night school to get her Master’s degree in physical therapy.  We had become very friendly. We lived near each other and shared a love of sushi and Starbucks.

After she graduated with her Master’s, she no longer worked at the clinic.  We stayed in touch, but did not see as much of each other.  My gut was telling me, however, she would know if  this horrific information were true or not.

It was.  She admitted the program’s ethics were the reason she stopped working at PEERS and not because she graduated.  She felt horrible not telling me, but Dr. Burns promised her if she said anything regarding how things were run at PEERS, he’d make sure her professors would know how “unfit” she was to be a physical therapist.

I said I had absolutely no hard feelings and thanked her for telling me. The next day, I went to the clinic, picked up my dusty braces and said goodbye.  I told Dr. Burns my family and I felt we did not see enough improvement for me to stay three thousand miles away from home.  Dr. Burns sputtered a bit, trying to convince me to stay. I lied and said my bags were already packed and I was going directly to the airport from the clinic.

A few months later, I was driving by the old brick building and spotted big yellow tape across its doors.  I found out the clinic was closed and under investigation for Medicare fraud.  Whatever punishment Dr. Burn’s received,  he deserved more.


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