B.C.L. Clinical Labs of Santa Fe Springs (Los Angeles County) had gained contracts with at least seven California Department of Corrections (CDC) prisons between 1995 and 1996 to process prisoner lab specimens. State inspectors closed B.C.L. down in December 1996 in a raid where they caught employees red-handed typing phony lab "results" into a computer. Critical tests for AIDS, hepatitis, cancer and other serious diseases were being faked at the expense of the health of the prisoners and the communities they returned to.
The Chronicle reported that a recent hand search of all of CDC's 162,000 prisoner medical files revealed at least 650 cases where no retesting was documented. Disturbing was the fact that the search and retesting effort comes after almost four years since the US Department of Health and Human Services issued warning letters to at least seven California prisons that the lab posed "immediate jeopardy to patient health and safety." The letters recommended "immediate follow-up, particularly in the area of Pap smear and HIV testing."
A review of state records showed B.C.L. had nine service contracts totaling $736,000, from which they were paid $336,000. B.C.L.'s owner and manager, Parveena Ahkter and her brother Ayazur Rahman were believed by investigators to have fled the country shortly after they raided the lab on December 10, 1996. In January 1997, the federal Department of Health and Human Services suspended B.C.L.'s license and on May 1, 1997, revoked it.
Dr. Corey Weinstein, a San Francisco medical consultant for prisoners, told the Chronicle, "How can we trust a department that sat on information like this for four years, and then begrudgingly begins to do it? To regain my confidence, the people responsible for this ever happening need to be identified, and let go."
During the two-year period in which B.C.L. contracted to perform tests with 11 California prisons, doctors at several of them complained of slow response times and unreliable test results. R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego spotted problems only days after their B.C.L. contract began in July 1995 and terminated its contract after just two months. But other California prisons, unaware of the problems, fell prey to B.C.L.'s bids for such services, which were offered at half the price of its competitors.
The Chief Medical Officer at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, Dr. John Culton, told the Chronicle that he had urged state health inspectors to check out the company, "Everyone, from the doctors and nurses on down, was fully aware of the problem with B.C.L. We'd gotten to the point where we were looking for errors and were retesting anything that seemed necessary." But he acknowledged that there was no written record of a formal "cleanup".
The warning sent by federal regulators in March, 1997 went to Northern California Women's Facility, Stockton; Calipatria State Prison, Calipatria; Lancaster State Prison, Los Angeles; Chuckawalla Valley State Prison and Ironwood State Prison, Blythe; Central California Women's Facility, Chowchilla; and Deuel Vocational Institute, Tracy.
B.C.L. had billed one prison alone, between July and November 1996, for $161,000 for thousands of medical tests. A chance investigation of medical records of 100 women at the two Chowchilla women's prisons uncovered 13 files involving tests by B.C.L. in the six months before it was closed. Only two of the charts showed any evidence of retesting.
CDC officials conceded that although doctors at each of the 11 prisons were well aware that there were problems with B.C.L.'s testing, they have yet to find any record of a large-scale retesting program after discovering that the lab had been fabricating test results.
The shoddy quality of B.C.L.'s work was readily apparent at the time. Dr. Antony Di Domenico, chief medical officer at the Valley State Prison for Women wrote memos detailing serious problems with B.C.L.'s work that should have alerted prison officials to widespread testing problems. Among the cases highlighted by Dr. Di Domenico were an HIV test on a woman prisoner who twice "tested" negative yet prison doctors knew the prisoner was HIV positive. In another case a woman tested negative for pregnancy even though she was visibly pregnant.
When B.C.L.'s license was revoked on May 1, 1997, the lab was fined $20,000, which was never paid. State health department investigators sent a recommendation for criminal prosecution of B.C.L. to the state attorney general's office, which never acted on the recommendation. No charges were ever filed against B.C.L. or its directors.
Rahman was given the stiffest administrative penalty available: he was barred for owning operating or directing a medical laboratory for two years. That expired on May 1, 1999. The San Francisco Chronicle found that in July 1999 Rahman obtained a state license to run a new company based on Whittier, a Los Angeles suburb, called American Diagnostic Labs. ADL is licensed to run medical tests in blood and tissue samples for wide range of illnesses. Rahman told reporters he had nothing to hide. When questioned about the issuing of the new license Paul Kimsey assistant deputy director for laboratory science at the Dept. of Health said, "It is our perspective that this license should never have been issued. When our investigation is complete we will take appropriate legal action." Despite that Rahman's license, application was granted without question by the Dept. of Health and as PLN goes to press, he remains in business.
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