Why no one's watching cosmetic clinics



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Posted on November 18, 2009 at 11:56 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:44 AM

For two days, the KING 5 Investigators have been reporting on problems at a Bellevue body contour center including a death following liposuction there. The center isn’t licensed or regulated by the state health department because of a gap in state laws.

When you get your hair cut or your nails done, the salon has to be licensed and inspected every two years in Washington State. That’s not the case at cosmetic clinics where doctors are doing liposuction.

Twenty-eight-year-old Aura Javellana of Redmond went to one of those cosmetic clinics, Sono Bello Body Contour Center in Bellevue, for liposuction. She wanted to surprise her fiancé with a slim new body before they got married, so she didn’t tell him about her procedure. Hours later she was dead.

"If you could say soul mate, she was definitely my soul mate,” Rogers said. “I’ve lost a lot.”

Aura died in May, but when we asked the Washington Department of Health about the case last week, more than five months later, they didn’t know about it.

“We do not have a report on a death that I’m aware of,” said Steve Saxe, Director of Health Professions and Facilities for the Washington Department of Health.

The KING 5 Investigators asked: “No one is required to report that?”

Saxe replied: “There’s no reporting requirement for professionals on a death right now.”

Under Washington State law, doctors are not required to report a death and neither are cosmetic clinics, like Sono Bello. But if Aura’s liposuction had been done at a hospital or at an ambulatory surgical facility, with the use of general anesthesia, things would have been different. State law requires those facilities to report a death or “adverse event” within 48 hours.

The term “general anesthesia” is the key to understanding the gap in state regulations. Because Sono Bello uses a local anesthetic, the center does not have to be licensed or inspected by the Washington State Department of Health.

Yet it’s the local anesthetic lidocaine that killed Aura Javellana.

The King County Medical Examiner determined that she died from “acute lidocaine intoxication.” Lidocaine is a nerve blocker that’s pumped into the body to suppress pain during liposuction. The Medical Examiner called the death “accidental” and said it was a “complication of cosmetic surgery.”

No one has determined that Sono Bello or Aura’s doctor did anything wrong. But after we brought Aura’s death to the attention of the Department of Health, they opened a complaint into the doctor. They’ve since opened a second investigation after receiving another complaint.

“Plenty of people are doing this type of risky surgery that can have an outcome like this, who are not being licensed by the state because they don’t use general anesthesia,” said Dr. Phil Haeck, incoming president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Dr. Haeck wants to close what he calls a dangerous gap in state law.

“I’m going to make a statement here that most people will find shocking,” Haeck said. “It’s harder to become a cosmetologist in this state than it is a person doing liposuction. The state investigation of cosmetologists is much more advanced than the state inspection of who's doing liposuction.”

We asked how that can be possible.

“Well it's not a good idea, I don't think,” Haeck said. I don't know how it's possible, but it's not good for the safety of patients in Washington."

It’s a complaint-driven system. The only time the Washington Department of Health looks at these cosmetic clinics, or body contour centers, is if someone files a complaint against a specific doctor, nurse or health care provider there.

There is no way a consumer can look up a clinic online and find out if there have been problems. That’s why it’s so important to find out the name of the doctor who is doing the procedure. This allows a patient to look up the doctor’s license on the D.O.H. Web site and find out if he or she is under investigation.

More information

To make a complaint with the Washington State Department of Health, call 360-236-4700, option 7.

To check a health provider online with the Washington State Department of Health, go to www.doh.wa.gov.