Pam Andersen of Puyallup said she decided on liposuction at Sono Bello in Bellevue based on promises that their new laser assisted procedures made it virtually painless and risk free.
Andersen said her procedure was extremely painful and her recovery difficult — taking weeks.
“I just didn’t see it coming. They didn't explain that to me. They just said it was going to be easy and it was anything but easy," she said.
Andersen said she was surprised that she didn't meet her doctor until right before the procedure.
But she was even more surprised when we showed her what we found after checking her doctor’s credentials. He isn’t licensed in this state. Dr. Aaron Rollins had applied for a license in Washington, but never got one. Yet, state health investigators say Rollins performed multiple liposuctions at Sono Bello Body Contour Centers in Bellevue from January through August of 2009.
Michael Farrell is Legal Unit Manager for the State Department of Health Medical Quality Assurance Commission, which investigates complaints against doctors. We asked Farrell how Rollins could be practicing in this state for eight months without a Washington license.
“Well, the commission was not aware that he was practicing for eight months here without a license until we received information during this investigation of Sono Bello,” he said.
The Medical Quality Assurance Commission recently sent Rollins a notice of its decision to deny him a license, saying he lacks the necessary medical training and committed unprofessional conduct.
“You have committed unprofessional conduct by practicing medicine in the state of Washington without a license,” wrote the Commission. The Commission also said, “You violated the standard of care by failing to perform or document pre-operative physical examinations. In so doing you have committed unprofessional conduct …”
And it's not just one doctor. The Medical Quality Assurance Commission made a similar allegation against Dr. Gwang Kim for his work at Sono Bello in 2008. Dr. Kim is licensed in Washington, but the Commission said that his patient records and surgery notes consisted of “canned’ notes” that failed to show that patients were monitored or even that drugs were administered during the procedure.
According to the “Stipulation to Informal Disposition” Dr. Kim stipulated to the allegations but did not admit to any unprofessional conduct. He agreed to be put on probation.
Farrell says, altogether, the Department of Health has received 17 complaints against six doctors at Sono Bello. Eleven cases are still under investigation.
And because of a gap in Washington's laws, complaints are the only avenue the Department of Health has to monitor what's happening there.
“If people don’t complain, then it's unlikely that the commission will know that potential unsafe medicine has been practiced,” Farrell said.
The KING 5 Investigators asked, “Because you’re not inspecting the facility?”
Farrell: “There’s no jurisdiction to inspect the facility."
KING 5: “And you’re not regulating that facility?”
“We’re not regulating that facility,” Farrell said, “They’re not licensed.”
Washington state doesn’t license cosmetic surgery clinics like Sono Bello, so they've largely flown under the regulatory radar. But that is about to change. The Medical Quality Assurance Commission is writing new rules imposing stricter standards and more oversight. However it could take up to a year for those new rules to be implemented.
We asked Sono Bello for a response to the state’s allegations. We did not hear back from Sono Bello but we did receive a written response from Seattle attorney Thomas Fain, who represents Dr. Rollins. Fain said that he does not consider the state’s decision to deny Rollins a license to be “a final determination”.
Fain does not agree that Rollins lacks the necessary training to be licensed in Washington.
“Dr. Aaron Rollins has more than adequate training and experience," Fain wrote. "After completing his formal post-graduate education he trained solely in tumescent liposuction for an additional six months. Since that time Dr. Rollins has performed over a thousand tumescent liposuction procedures. He has also lectured and trained many physicians in the performance of the procedure. Dr. Rollins holds an unrestricted license to practice medicine in both California and New York based on his qualifications.”
Fain also denies that Rollins broke the law by doing procedures without a Washington license.
“Dr. Rollins worked at the Sono Bello Bellevue clinic where he was brought in to train Washington physicians in the performance of tumescent liposuction," Fain wrote. "Dr. Rollins verbally confirmed the propriety of this practice with the Department of Health before doing so. You should know it is not uncommon for physicians to travel to other states to receive or perform training. The Department was aware of Dr. Rollins' presence at Sono Bello in Washington early-on yet did not raise any issue about his presence until much later, at which point he ceased work in WA. Dr. Rollins routinely informed patients that he saw at the Bellevue clinic that he was a California licensed physician."
Fain also said “Patients that Dr. Rollins was involved with received an appropriately focused physical examination prior to the procedure.”
To contact Linda Byron, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org..