Two East Tennessee pain clinics abruptly closed their doors last month after federal prosecutors accused their parent company of defrauding taxpayers by subjecting patients to unnecessary injections, drug tests and opioid prescriptions.
This is at least the third time Tennessee pain clinics have shut down while under federal investigation for fraud in the past two years.
Advanced Spine and Pain in Crossville and Coffey Family Medical Clinic in Oneida closed over a span of a few days in mid-August, according to patients and employees. In the weeks since the closures, former employees say they haven’t received their final paycheck and some former patients have been unable to access their medical records. Without those records, patients are unlikely to convince other pain clinics to take them on as new patients.
Amanda Doyle, 39, a former patient of the Coffey clinic, said she has been slowly running out of painkillers and anti-seizure medication since the closure. Without medication, Doyle suffers from dozens of dangerous seizures every day, she said.
“They closed down in the beginning of August, and I finally found a new doctor today,” Doyle said Monday. “I have stretched and hemmed and hawed and thought I was going to have to stand upside down on my head to get more medicine. Because I didn’t have any medical records so nobody was able to help me.”
Patients were not the only ones caught off guard by the clinic closures. Two ex-employees of Advanced Spine and Pain said staff got no warning before the shutdown.
Darlene Paul, 55, who worked at the Crossville clinic for three years, said employees found out on the morning of Aug. 12 they would not be paid, then were told later that day to leave the clinic and lock the doors behind them. Paul said a group of about 15 employees went straight from the clinic to the unemployment office.
Paul is still searching for a new job. The clinic owes her about $1,900, she said.
“It has stressed all of us, and it has hurt my household,” Paul said. “You go to work, you try to do the best for your company, and then your company does this to you.”
Neither Advanced Spine and Pain nor Coffey Family Medical Clinic has provided a public explanation for the closures. However, the closures occurred in the same week that the owner of both clinics, a South Carolina corporation known as Oaktree Medical Centre, shuttered at least 10 clinics in the Carolinas.
Federal prosecutors in South Carolina sued Oaktree earlier this year accusing the company of a “series of elaborate and extensive fraud schemes” that maximized profits at the expense of patients and taxpayers. The lawsuit alleges that Oaktree and its owner, Daniel McCollum, used illegal kickbacks to incentivize medical professionals to overprescribe opioids and order “unreasonable” drug tests at the company laboratory, which inflated Oaktree’s reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina has also confirmed an ongoing criminal investigation into Oaktree Medical.
The federal lawsuit, which is focused on clinics in South Carolina, does not specifically allege any fraud took place at Advanced Spine and Pain. Oaktree has denied all wrongdoing in federal court filings.
One of Oaktree’s attorneys, Bart Daniel, declined to discuss the federal case against the company. An Oaktree spokesman, Mark Hubbard, declined to comment on Advanced Spine and Pain.
Third pain clinic company to close amid federal probe
Two other pain clinic companies have abruptly closed their Tennessee clinics amid a federal investigation over the last two years. In both cases, patients lost access to their medical records and were forced to find new doctors to treat their pain.
Comprehensive Pain Specialists, which is accused of a similar drug test scheme, shut down dozens of clinics last summer. PainMD, which was also sometimes known as Rinova, shuttered six clinics while under investigation for giving patients unnecessary injections.
Comprehensive Pain Specialists and PainMD were headquartered in the Nashville area and owned clinics in Tennessee and surrounding states. Oaktree is headquartered in Greenville, South Carolina, and also owned clinics in North Carolina.
Oaktree’s ownership of the two Tennessee clinics is not immediately apparent but was confirmed by multiple sources. Public records obtained from the Tennessee Department of Health show Oaktree officials making leadership decisions at Advanced Spine and Pain and Coffey Family Medical Clinic. Additionally, both clinics list Oaktree’s laboratory as their corporate address in business records filed with the Tennessee Secretary of State. Finally, Oaktree was identified as the owner of Advanced Spine and Pain by multiple ex-employees, including the former medical director, Dr. David Arehart. Arehart declined to provide any other comment.
Advanced Spine and Pain is also being investigated by the Tennessee Department of Labor. Department spokesman Chris Cannon said the agency received a complaint that the company did not give a final paycheck to about 40 employees.
Kylie Aytes, a receptionist who worked for the clinic for two years, is among those employees. Aytes said she has tried to reach Oaktree multiple times since the clinic closed, but has found no answers.
“We’re clueless,” she said. “We just want to know why we haven’t received our pay.”
Brett Kelman is the health care reporter for The Tennessean. He can be reached at 615-259-8287 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.