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Florida Health Regulators Suspend Bonati Spine Institute License

A well-known surgical center is in the middle of a controversy following reports that numerous procedures have been performed by an individual without a doctor’s license. Last week, Sam Ogozalek of the Tampa Bay Times broke the story involving Pasco County’s Bonati Spine Institute. He reports that Florida regulators are alleging an immediate danger to patients because of surgeries performed by someone who purported to be a “certified surgical technologist”.

“The Hudson surgical center knowingly allowed the unnamed employee to conduct such procedures on patients without being licensed as a health care professional by the Florida Department of Health - and despite other staff members raising concerns about his actions,” reports Ogozalek. A 13-page emergency suspension order was filed Wednesday of last week by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA).

Alfred O. Bonati founded the Bonati Spine Institute in 1983.

A licensed doctor since 1981, the 83 year-old surgeon boasts having pioneered the use of laser spine surgery at his facility. The institute is also known as the Gulf Coast Orthopedic Center. It shares an address with the Medical Development Corporation of Pasco County. Bonati is an administrator of both. Problems have been occurring at this medical facility for many years, according to the AHCA.

Among the issues is that it “failed or refused” to provide some patients’ medical records to Florida regulators. As a result, the state couldn’t assess their surgical outcomes. As well, the center “knew or should have known of alleged unlicensed surgical practice,” reports Ogozalek, “but has demonstrated no action to even investigate the repeated allegations.”

The order took effect at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16.

It describes the failures of the Medical Development Corporation of Pasco County. They include “operational and management system deficiencies” that endangered “the health, safety and welfare” of the center’s patients. The center’s lawyers are requesting a stay of the order as it impacts nearly 100 employees. They’re hoping, of course, to do away with the order completely.

Bonati could not be reached for comment.

Scott J. Flint is an attorney representing the center. “We vehemently disagree with AHCA’s contentions,” he is quoted as saying in the Tampa Bay Times article, “We look forward to vindicating Medical Development Corporation and its employees in court. Other than that, we won’t be commenting on any ongoing litigation.”

Ogozalek points out, however, that Bonati doesn’t have the most sparkling of track records. “The state health department has so far filed two complaints against Bonati this year alleging medical malpractice related to back surgeries,” he reveals, “One complaint said Bonati performed six surgeries on a patient ‘without evidence of improvement.’ The other said he performed multiple surgeries on a patient over a roughly three-month span without trying less invasive treatment.”

Bonati has faced multiple disciplinary cases over the last two decades.

In 2010, $12 million was awarded to a couple who claimed unnecessary operations at the spine institute left the husband unable to walk. In 2013, Bonati was ordered to pay $2 million to a woman who alleged that the doctor subjected her to unnecessary tests and performed five unnecessary surgeries. A 2017 investigation found that 24 disciplinary cases had been brought against Bonati since 1992.

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