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San Diego lap band surgery centers accused of unsanitary conditions that may have spread hepatitis C

A billboard for the Lap Band over the 210 freeway.
Corey Bridwell/KPCC
A billboard for the Lap Band over the 210 freeway.

There's a new whistleblower lawsuit against the owners of the surgery centers affiliated with the 1-800-GET THIN campaign. The suit claims at least one surgery center may have exposed several patients to an infectious disease and that company managers failed to report the possible exposure to authorities.

This latest whistleblower lawsuit against weight loss surgery center owners Julian and Michael Omidi was filed on behalf of a former manager and a former surgical technician who used to work at the San Diego clinic.

The lawsuit alleges that a series of surgeries late last year may have left some patients exposed to a possible hepatitis C infection. It's the most serious form of hepatitis and can lead to liver cancer.

The suit alleges that the clinic's sole machine used to sterilize surgical instruments frequently malfunctioned — and did so last December 30, when eight patients had surgeries there.

Among those patients was a woman who was carrying the hepatitis C virus, according to the lawsuit.

"The information makes the hair on back of your neck stand up," says Alex Robertson, the Westlake Village attorney who filed the complaint. "That medical professionals would be so callous as to completely disregard proper protocol for sterilization of surgical instruments, particularly if you have a patient with a known infectious disease."

The lawsuit also claims the clinic owners routinely had surgical instruments and drugs transported — in the trunk of private vehicles — between San Diego and their other facilities in Southern California. This was allegedly a cost-saving measure, even though the company at one time grossed $21 million a month, according to a deposition filed in another lawsuit against the clinics.

The plaintiffs say they believe that the unsterilized tools used on the patient with hepatitis C were sent from San Diego to the Omidis' Beverly Hills surgery center, where they may have been used — as per protocol — without further sterilization in surgeries there on January 3.

The plaintiffs contend that they immediately told their supervisors about the possible hepatitis C contaminations but that the supervisors failed to inform the potentially infected patients or local health officials, as required by law.

The San Diego County public health department says it was not informed. The L.A. County public health department referred questions to the state department of public health — which also says it was not informed.

The two plaintiffs allege they had no choice but to quit their jobs, so that they would not have to engage in what they described as "unsafe patient care."

Surgery center lawyer Konrad Trope said in a statement that his clients "vigorously deny" the allegations in the suit. He called the plaintiffs "disgruntled ex-employees" who "have made up a bunch of false allegations."

This is the second whistleblower lawsuit filed against the Omidi brothers, who own eleven weight loss surgery centers in Southern California affiliated with the 1-800-GET THIN campaign. They're also facing at least two insurance company fraud investigations, along with wrongful death lawsuits stemming from the deaths of patients who underwent the Lap-Band procedure.

Whistleblower Complaint