By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
By Jeff Balke
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
Rather than solve the problems plaguing the facility, however, the principals seemed more interested in casting blame. In fact, they still do. Fernandez says that although he may not have been bringing in enough patients, Kubricht failed to market the center properly and wouldn't join any managed-care plans, which kept patient numbers low. In addition, he says, rumors about the sorry state of the books -- and conditions at the center -- had spread throughout the medical community and had a chilling effect on referrals. "That's why the practice didn't build up," he states emphatically.
Kubricht is equally emphatic about the source of the malaise: Fernandez. No referrals meant no income, and the referrals weren't there, he says, because of the doctor's poor reputation among his colleagues. "Everyone in the medical community knows he's a bad doctor," Kubricht says.
On September 5, Kubricht appeared at the building with Russell Mackert, an attorney who had represented him in the dispute with Miller. They had an important announcement: Houston Cancer Care Center no longer existed. In its place now stood the Bellaire Cancer Treatment Center. Everything had changed.
Ask Bill Kubricht and other principals why Houston Cancer Care Center became the Bellaire Cancer Treatment Center, and a variety of conflicting answers emerge. In order to beef up the referral numbers, Kubricht initially told the Press, a new doctor had to be brought on board, which was prohibited under the contract with Fernandez. (Actually, the terms stipulate that the center could have hired another doctor anyway, because Fernandez didn't meet a specific patient quota, but no attempt to enforce the agreement was made.)
In a second interview, Kubricht said that the decision came after a Connecticut lender called about a $900,000 debt that had been incurred by Miller. "They said it was for equipment and a building," he remembered vaguely, "but I never heard where the equipment and building were supposed to be."
Such a burden would have crushed the already fragile center. "I guess it's illegal to sell something to avoid debt," says Kubricht, "but in this case it was debt that we didn't know anything about."
Minutes later, however, Kubricht said he could never find any evidence that the center owed the money. The real reason to make the change, he says, was Fernandez. "It was not an attempt to get rid of Fernandez," Kubricht states. "It was an attempt to get control of Fernandez."
Attorney Mackert, who took the title of president of Bellaire Cancer Treatment Center, also has more than one version of events. The financial situation, he says, was just too unstable to continue as before. "It had debts and potential liabilities in the form of possible malpractice suits," Mackert says.
Pressed on the details, however, Mackert finds a similar bottom line to Kubricht's. "The real reason?" he asks. "[Fernandez] was a danger to his patients."
And in a rare show of unity, Fernandez likewise agrees on at least one of the motivating factors, though he takes it a step further. "They committed fraud to get me out of there," he says.
In addition to changing the name of the facility, Kubricht had restructured the business by shuffling the ownership between several entities. The new owner was Oncology Resources Inc., a Nevada corporation that was in turn owned by a family trust controlled by Kubricht's daughter. With the exception of GE and a few other creditors that had negotiated arrangements, the debts of the old company were technically left behind.
So, in theory, were other obligations, including the contract with Fernandez. Kubricht fired the old staff and brought in a second radiation oncologist, Shailesh Gupta, and early in 1996 both he and Fernandez were asked to submit applications for privileges. Gupta's application was accepted, with conditions; the center turned Fernandez down, claiming that his application contained "irregularities."
As he had done after Memorial Southwest Hospital bumped him out, Fernandez sued to uphold the terms of the contract and retain his privileges. Not only would he have no place to practice medicine, he argued, but his patients would be denied the care they so desperately needed.
Fernandez lost his Memorial suit. But this time, swayed by the thought of seriously ill patients left to fend for themselves, the judge in the case issued a temporary restraining order in April that required the center to allow Fernandez to treat patients there. The order specifically named three of them, including Moises Garcia. That was two days after Garcia's first shot of strontium-89.
The temporary restraining order turned into an injunction, and Fernandez continued to treat his patients at the center. Gupta lasted a few months, though the patient load at the facility didn't increase enough to make a significant difference in the bottom line, and Mackert says the center eventually pulled his privileges for alleged shoddy record keeping. "That's a bunch of nonsense," responds Gupta, who charges that the center improperly billed for his services and that he walked out.
Like so many people associated at one time or another with the center, Gupta says he's still owed thousands of dollars. "That guy's a nut," responds Mackert. "[Mackert's] such an idiot," parries Gupta.