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- Six Rinova pain clinics shut their doors in May with no notice to patients
- Ex-patients are stranded with dwindling medication and no medical records
- Rinova is a spin-off of PainMD, which stands accused of pervasive fraud.
Six Rinova pain clinics shut down without warning in May. Now, patients are stranded.
If Michele Bone wanted medicine, she needed to hurry.
Bone, 53, a chronic pain patient in Winchester, Tennessee, was at home on the morning of May 9 when she got a call from her pain clinic, which for the past two years had prescribed her opioids for a degenerative disease in her knee, neck and back.
A nurse on the phone said the clinic had shut down, Bone recalled. She had a chance to get one last prescription if she went to the clinic immediately. Bone rushed to her car as her mind raced with questions.
Why are they closing?
How will I find a new doctor?
Will my medication last long enough?
Dana Hampton, a former patient at a Rinova pain clinic in Clarksville, is shown with what could be her dwindling supply of medication on Monday, June 3, 2019. Hampton is one of countless Rinova patients who have been stranded without access to medication or medical records after the clinics abruptly closed in May.
Dana Hampton, a former patient at a Rinova pain clinic in Clarksville, is shown with what could be her dwindling supply of medication on Monday, … Show more
HENRY TAYLOR/THE LEAF-CHRONICLE
When she arrived, the clinic was unlike how Bone had ever seen it before. The waiting room was busy with patients, but the only staff was a nurse in casual clothing sitting at a reception desk with a large binder of prescriptions slips.
Patients gave their name, then the nurse handed them prewritten slips extending their medications for one more month. Bone got her prescription and left. A few hours later, the clinic closed its doors for good.
That was nearly one month ago, and since then, nothing has gone right. Five pharmacists have refused to fill the strange prescription, Bone said, and she has been unable to find a new pain doctor because her former pain clinic never released her medical records. Bone is now nearly out of medication and cutting her pills into fourths to make them last as long as possible. As the dosage dwindles, debilitating pain has roared back into her life, making it difficult to stand, walk, sit or sleep.
“They did me wrong,” Bone said with an exacerbated tremble. “And there are people worse off than I am who are going through the same thing. It has ruined our lives.”
Bone is one of countless patients who have been abandoned by Rinova, a chain of six pain clinics in Tennessee and Virginia that abruptly closed their doors last month. Rinova promised outgoing patients it would send one more prescription through the mail and release their medical records once they had found new doctors, but numerous ex-patients say these promises have not been kept, stranding many without medication.
Since clinics closed, The Tennessean has spoken with at least 20 former Rinova patients.
With the exception of Bone, none of the ex-patients said they received any notice before their clinic closed. Many said they have been turned away by other doctors because Rinova did not give them a referral, which is mandatory at many pain clinics, and because their medical records remain inaccessible. Others said they never received the final prescription Rinova promised to send in the mail. Nearly every ex-patient expressed a desire to contact an attorney or pursue a lawsuit.
Among the angriest patients was Bobby Gummelt, who was treated at a Rinova clinic in Virginia until it shut down and left him with a few pills and even fewer options.
Gummelt, 52, said the clinic never mailed him a final prescription and hasn't sent his medical records to his new doctor even though the doctor requested them two weeks ago. If the records aren’t released soon, the new doctor will cut him off because he can’t confirm Gummelt’s medical history.
Gummelt doesn’t blame his new doctor. Rinova created this "nightmare," he said.
“If they weren’t negligent, they would have been there to give me a referral instead of dumping us all in the street and leaving us to fend for ourselves,” Gummelt said. “These guys are getting rich off our pain. I think they ought to throw them under the jail.”
Dana Hampton, a former Rinova pain clinic patient, displays the last of her medicine at her home in Cerulean, Ky., on Monday, June 3, 2019. Six Rinova clinics closed without warning in May, stranding patients without access to medication or medical records.
Dana Hampton, a former Rinova pain clinic patient, displays the last of her medicine at her home in Cerulean, Ky., on Monday, June 3, 2019. … Show more
HENRY TAYLOR/THE LEAF-CHRONICLE
PainMD, accused of fraud, became Rinova
Rinova was opened earlier this year by Dr. Benjamin Johnson, a Tennessee doctor who purchased and rebranded clinics from PainMD, a troubled pain management company where he was previously employed. Johnson declined to comment when reached by phone.
PainMD, which once owned and operated as many as 30 clinics, has been accused by government authorities of giving patients unnecessary, painful injections to defraud taxpayers and inflate profits. Three PainMD nurse practitioners were indicted in April, and federal and state attorneys have sued PainMD, accusing it of duping the government out at least $10 million.
Prosecutors say the fraud scheme revolved around pressuring patients to receive numerous injections, called a trigger point injection, but billing Medicare and Medicaid for another procedure known as a tendon point injection. Prosecutors have said the injections were "very painful" and not medically necessary, but the billing switcheroo caused the government to reimburse PainMD for millions more than it should have paid.
PainMD’s attorney, Jay Bowen, denied all wrongdoing in a prior interview. PainMD also countersued the federal government, insisting it is being unfairly targeted, and filed defamation lawsuits against a former employee and former patient who spoke publicly about the clinics.
PainMD’s owners — Michael Kestner and Dr. Lisabeth Williams — have filed court motions attempting to keep their identities secret.
In the midst of all these interwoven court cases, Rinova was born.
This Rinova pain clinic in Clarksville is one of six clinics that shut down May 8 with no warning to patients. Many former patients have been left without medication or medical records as a result.
This Rinova pain clinic in Clarksville is one of six clinics that shut down May 8 with no warning to patients. Many former patients have … Show more
CHRIS SMITH/THE LEAF-CHRONICLE
Feds: PainMD clinics sold to company 'insiders'
In recently filed court documents, federal prosecutors reveal Kestner and Williams quietly sold PainMD’s clinics in February without disclosing the sale to investigators.
Four North Carolina clinics were sold to Andrew Harris, a former PainMD doctor, and now operate under the name Medical Innovations Concepts.
Four Tennessee clinics were sold to Johnson, another former PainMD doctor, and reopened as Rinova.
Two clinics in Virginia were sold to PainMD’s attorney, Richardson Lynn, then leased to Johnson so they could become more Rinova clinics.
Federal prosecutors have since raised alarms about these sales, saying in court documents that they could amount to “fraudulent conveyances to (PainMD) insiders.”
After prosecutors stated these concerns in court, Rinova closed its clinics and blamed the federal probe.
In a letter sent to ex-patients — the same letter that promised a final prescription and the release of medical records — Rinova said the "effects of the federal investigation" had caused the sale of the PainMD clinics to be "reversed," so the clinics had to close "due to lack of funds."
"We regret this closure happened so quickly," the Rinova letter said. "We will do our best to support you."
For most patients, this letter was the first sign of trouble at Rinova.
Others got even less notice.
Ten days after Rinova clinics closed their doors, a patient is informed of the closure via automated text message. Countless Rinova patients have been left without medications and medical records.
Ten days after Rinova clinics closed their doors, a patient is informed of the closure via automated text message. Countless Rinova patients have been left … Show more
BRETT KELMAN/THE TENNESSEAN
Dana Hampton, 58, was a patient of a Rinova clinic in Clarksville for about a year. Although the clinic shut down May 8, Hampton wasn’t told until 10 days later when she received an automated message canceling an appointment.
If her clinic had been upfront with her, she said, she could have been looking for a new doctor for weeks. Now she is on deadline. Her last bottle of pills is running out.
“I’m gonna try to be strong for it and start cutting myself down now in case I don’t get into a new doctor right away,” Hampton said. “I’m hoping for the best, planning for the worst.”
Five attorneys who represent PainMD and its owners did not respond to requests for comment. Lynn, the PainMD attorney who purchased some of its clinics, also did not respond to requests for comment.
More stories on PainMD, Rinova
Pain clinics, needles and greed: PainMD accused of injecting patients to meet profit quotas
3 PainMD clinic nurses indicted, gave patients 'very painful' bogus injections, feds say
Four Tennessee pain clinics closing after arrests, fraud allegations
Brett Kelman is the health care reporter for The Tennessean. He can be reached at 615-259-8287 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @brettkelman.