LEILA NAVIDI / LAS VEGAS SUN
Friday, May 1, 2009 | 2 a.m.
On TelevisionMore about the medical spa story will be aired today on Face to Face with John Ralston. The show airs at 5:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Las Vegas ONE, Cox Cable channel 19.
The Medical Spa at Summerlin
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Beyond the Sun
Tracy Hurst says she was the last one to know that a clandestine after-hours cosmetic surgery business was being run out of The Medical Spa at Summerlin.
And she owns the place.
In connection with a lawsuit she filed against a former employee and the employee’s retired cosmetic-surgeon husband, Hurst said she discovered that thousands of patients underwent cosmetic procedures behind her back for about two years. She alleges that registered nurse Nancy Vinnik used her company-issued keys to reopen after hours, conducting a bustling cash-only business until the wee hours of the morning. Vinnik and her husband, Dr. Charles Vinnik, would allegedly do the same on Sundays, when the business was closed, Hurst said, always cleaning up after themselves before she showed up.
Hurst, who opened the medical spa next to Summerlin Hospital Medical Center in 2003, said she has learned that her clients were being bled off to the off-hours business, where they received deep discounts on procedures intended to reduce wrinkles, smooth skin and restore youthful appearances — Botox and other injections, laser skin treatments and photo-facials.
Another dozen or so plastic surgeons were performing breast augmentations and other surgeries that went beyond the scope of the facility’s capabilities, she added in an interview.
She claims they were motivated by the free use of her medical equipment — she’d invested a half million dollars in the latest machines — and the access to image-obsessed patients who could be sold plastic surgery procedures.
In some cases the doctors were negligent, Hurst claims, causing infections and other injuries that could have exposed her to lawsuits.
The allegations were first aired on the television news show In Business Las Vegas.
In her lawsuit and in interviews, Hurst said every night dozens of patients — many of them cocktail waitresses and strippers just getting off work, and having heard of the overnight procedures through word-of-mouth — showed up at the medical spa seeking procedures. Other patients were poached from the spa’s patient base.
A nurse involved in the operation told the Sun that the after-hours business generated as much as $30,000 daily.
Hurst is suing the Vinniks for alleged interference with her business, violation of contracts, unjust enrichment and trespassing. The betrayal is particularly deep, she says, because Dr. Charles Vinnik was her mentor and she trained Nancy Vinnik to use the spa’s laser equipment.
Attorney Michael Stein, who is representing the Vinniks, denies the allegations and says Hurst’s claims are preposterous. It’s beyond belief that plastic surgeons who operate their own clinics would risk their medical licenses for some off-the-books business in a medical spa that didn’t have the proper equipment, Stein said. The potential profit of such an operation is “chicken feed” compared with the potential liability involved, he said.
Plus, Stein asked, incredulously, why would the Vinniks and other doctors engage in such illegal activity when it’s entirely possible that Hurst would walk in, unexpected, on the alleged after-hours operation?
“So the owner decides to go back to her office to get something and you’re sitting there working on patients? It’s ridiculous!” he said.
Hurst said she learned of the scandal in July from one of her patients, Anna Giorgione, who was not satisfied with a procedure performed by the Vinniks. Giorgione said in a signed statement attached to the lawsuit that the Vinniks had been using the office after hours for a year. Giorgione said she started going on Sundays because Nancy Vinnik told her the spa was booked during the week.
Giorgione and others were given $200 in products or procedures for every patient they referred for treatment, she said in her statement. She said she has friends who paid $1,500 cash for a laser treatment and that the Vinniks and another plastic surgeon were present during the procedure.
“I know of at least 10 girls who will testify to these activities,” Giorgione said in her statement.
A nurse who worked at the facility corroborated Hurst’s account of the events in an interview with the Sun. The nurse, who asked not to be identified because she’s looking for employment, said she will testify in the court case. The nurse said she was originally hired to work day shifts at the medical spa, but Nancy Vinnik soon asked her to come in at night, starting in February 2007 and continuing until May 2008. She said the medical spa was so busy — about 20 patients a night in the seven procedure rooms — that she had no idea at first that it was operating off the books. Hurst, the owner, was not involved in the medical side of the operation, so the nurse said it’s plausible that she didn’t know about the after-hours operation.
The nurse said Dr. Charles Vinnik was often at the medical spa and one average night, she watched Nancy Vinnik count about $30,000 in cash at the end of the shift.
The nurse said other doctors were also involved in the scheme.
Hurst filed complaints with the Nevada State Medical Examiners Board against Vinnik and one of the doctors, accusing them of working after hours without her permission at the medical spa.
“Patient safety and our company have been jeopardized,” the complaint said.
The medical board said it did not have jurisdiction so the complaint will be forwarded to Metro Police because it was a trespassing matter.
Under Nevada law, the medical board can discipline doctors for “engaging in conduct that brings the medical profession into disrepute,” including conduct that violates any code of ethics adopted by the board.
Louis Ling, executive director of the medical board, said the complaint was not investigated because, although it is a serious allegation, it deals more with a business relationship than patient care. The board will take action if a civil or criminal decision is brought against the doctors, he said.
When asked if it was at least unethical behavior and a possible cause of “disrepute” that warranted investigating, Ling said the board has not actually adopted a code of ethics and that it’s difficult to define “disrepute.”
“We’re not trying to duck this,” Ling said. “But we get complaints all the time from people who are peeved at doctors, and when you boil it down, it’s a civil-legal dispute.”