Doug Geinzer called it a “milestone event for medical tourism in Las Vegas.”
Geinzer, CEO of Las Vegas Heals, a coalition of medical and wellness industry professionals working to turn Las Vegas into a medical tourism hub, gushed in his advertising for the grand opening of the Bonati Institute on West Twain Avenue, a Thursday event that drew about 200 people.
“Attracting the Bonati Institute to Las Vegas will forever change the medical landscape in our city,” he wrote. “This is a big deal for Las Vegas and exactly what we … need to stimulate the medical tourism industry.”
That’s some buildup for a new outpatient spine surgery center. Especially when Dr. Alfred Bonati, the man who owns it, has been the subject of dozens of malpractice claims in Florida over the past 25 years, with settlements and arbitration awards against him involving millions of dollars.
Bonati also has been the subject of media reports that questioned his expertise. A 2010 Tampa Bay Times story said an arbitration panel ordered Bonati to pay $12 million to a couple. Attorney Steve Yerrid alleges unnecessary operations left the husband unable to walk.
Florida authorities have hit Bonati with disciplinary sanctions, including having to work for two years under the supervision of another orthopedic surgeon. Twenty-one actions are listed against Bonati on the Florida Department of Health website.
Geinzer said he knew of several settlements against Bonati: Two other highly publicized settlements total $10 million. Geinzer said Bonati told him that unlike settlements reached by other doctors, his were made public because of the type of insurance he had. He also said Bonati told him he became the target of an ultracompetitive medical establishment because his work was so advanced.
Geinzer said he was amazed when he traveled to Florida to watch Bonati in surgery. Bonati uses arthroscopy and lasers in his minimally invasive surgery, with incisions the size of a staple. There is minimal bleeding and little muscle trauma. The type of anesthetic used allows the patient to talk with physician.
“The doctor didn’t allow the patient up until he was pain-free,” Geinzer said.
During an interview last week, Bonati talked about his malpractice claims, telling me no doctor can satisfy 100 percent of his patients. He said he and his staff have satisfied 98.75 percent of 55,000 patients.
Bonati, 76, also spoke about his problems with Florida health authorities, who have tried and failed to revoke his license.
“The criticism was started by individuals established in the old open surgery who use screws,” he said.
In 2013, an arbitration panel ordered Bonati to pay $2 million to a female client of attorney Gary Roberts, who said she became totally disabled after six surgeries by Bonati. In 1996, Roberts won a $3.5 million verdict on behalf of another woman, but Bonati declared bankruptcy; the verdict was overturned as excessive. Later, however, Roberts’ client and several other malpractice claimants shared an $8 million court settlement.
Bonati, who has patented his surgical techniques and draws patients from around the world to his facility outside Tampa, has supporters. His website is loaded with video testimonials. The Tampa Bay Times reported Willie Wood, a Green Bay Packers star in the Vince Lombardi era, said he was satisfied with his care.
Dr. Joel Santy, a New York chiropractor, said he has referred 300 patients to Bonati in 11 years “with 98 percent success or even higher.” Santy said Bonati’s patients become pain-free, going back to work in a week instead of months later.
He said “jealousy and envy” from other doctors created problems for Bonati in Florida.
Bonati said he won’t pursue a license to practice in Nevada; why is unclear.
Ed Cousineau, executive director of the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners, said the board considers settlements paid out by a physician when deciding whether to issue a license.
“I’m just going to train doctors in Florida to go to Las Vegas,” Bonati said. “We’re expanding outside Florida.”
Wouldn’t people expect him to be operating at least part time in a facility bearing his name?
“I don’t know,” he said.