Health Column


Boy he’s quick. On the heels of Dr. Bernard Salick’s resignation (ouster?) from Los Angeles-based Salick Health Care Inc. in early April, and the announcement that he plans to start a rival global health care firm with “hundreds of millions” of dollars in investment capital, the businessman/physician is putting $4.5 million toward an endowed chair and new AIDS research center at Queens College in New York.

The first person to hold the Salick-funded professorship? No less than Luc Montagnier, co-discoverer of the AIDS virus and president of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention in Paris.

“It’s out of (Salick’s) own pocket and demonstrates his long-term commitment to finding a vaccine for AIDS,” said Marshall Grossman, an attorney at Alschuler Grossman & Pines who is representing Salick.

The $4.5 million is to serve as seed money to be expanded on by corporate donations, private donations and government funding. A target for total funding has not yet been announced.

The donation had been in the works for several months, according to Grossman, preceding Salick’s departure from the successful chain of cancer and renal clinics he founded. The British drug company Zeneca Group PLC in April bought the 50 percent of Salick Health Care it didn’t already own and offered Salick an honorary advisory position.

Salick resigned, vowing to start a new company that would open a string of treatment clinics for cancer, AIDS and other chronic illnesses to go head-to-head with his namesake company. The new firm, Bentley Health Care Inc. in Beverly Hills, is currently seeking funding from investment bankers to open the clinics.

Montagnier will both hold the endowed professorship in molecular and cellular biology at Queens College (Salick’s alma mater) and head the college’s Salick Family Center for Molecular and Cellular Biology. Montagnier has said the center will focus on developing an AIDS vaccine and creating simpler treatments for AIDS patients around the world.

Open wide

The California Department of Corporations has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court seeking a $3 million fine and the appointment of a receiver for Western Dental Services Inc., which operates 113 dental clinics in California, 15 of them in Los Angeles.

The department filed suit after weeks of negotiations regarding alleged quality problems at the dental HMO fell apart, according to Department of Corporations Commissioner Keith Bishop.

“Western Dental has allowed very serious deficiencies to go uncorrected,” Bishop said. “We are taking this action to ensure that Western Dental meets its legal obligation to provide quality dental care.”

In particular, said Department of Corporations spokeswoman Julie Stewart, Western Dental consistently failed to meet quality-of-care standards, failed to establish and maintain a method for addressing patient grievances and let the company’s financial state influence medical decisions, a prime violation of California’s Knox-Keene licensing guidelines for HMOs.

Costa Mesa-based Western Dental is contesting the charges. “Western Dental emphatically disagrees with the position of the Department of Corporations and believes the DOC’s rush to litigation is premature,” Western Dental president Robert Schur said in a prepared statement.

A company spokesman, Steven Swott, said Western Dental had only received the Department of Corporations’ complaints in early April, and should have had 45 days until mid-May to respond.

“Well before the DOC expressed its concerns, Western Dental had developed and put into place an aggressive plan that put our services above and beyond the issues raised by the DOC and were confirmed by an exhaustive independent audit,” said Schur in the statement.

The California Dental Association applauded the Department of Corporations’ lawsuit. “There have been excessive consumer complaints brought against (Western Dental), and we are pleased that action is being taken by the DOC,” said Dental Association President Kenneth Zakariasen. “There is no room for poor oral care in this state.”

No trial date has yet been set for the lawsuit.

Enhancement problems

One of the fastest-growing forms of cosmetic surgery in the United States is penile enhancement surgery for men. But as with the early days of silicone breast implants, “because there are no established guidelines for performing these types of surgeries, the techniques and results can vary greatly, and indeed some can cause serious deformities,” said Dr. Gary Alter, an assistant clinical professor at the UCLA School of Medicine.

Alter and his colleagues have been developing new techniques to repair penises damaged by shoddy surgery and last month presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association.

Alter reported the results of 19 repair jobs he performed on men who had had complications resulting from the surgery. Lumps, asymmetry and pain were the most common complaints of men with complications from the surgery.

Multi-stage corrective plastic surgery can, in most cases, repair the damage, Alter reported. But he added, “During these revisions, extreme care should be taken to re-establish the patient’s trust in physicians.”

Ben Sullivan is a reporter for the Los Angeles Business Journal and covers the health care industry.

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