Anaheim Hills Cosmetic Surgery Center Comes Under an Unfriendly Light

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It's enough to put a permanent frown in your forehead.

After a plastic surgeon through the courts successfully challenged the state's authority to regulate surgery centers, California in 2007 stopped licensing such facilities that are at least partly owned by a licensed doctor. According to the state Department of Public Health, only 45 surgical centers are now state-licensed, compared with about 480 before the law changed. And the non-existent regulation may have played a role in the death of a woman who visited an Anaheim Hills surgery center.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske shares the fascinating story of Maria Garcia in the Los Angeles Times.

The 39-year-old mother of five came to Hills Surgical Institute Inc. two years ago for liposuction, vaginal reconstruction and a "Brazilian butt lift," with plans to return two weeks later for a tummy tuck and breast augmentation. But she would not see the end of that first day, March 13, 2008, as she bled to death from a puncture wound.

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Garcia did not know that Hills Surgical Institute, which was recommended by a friend, had opened only 90 days earlier, that one of her doctors was under investigation by the California Medical Board, that the facility failed to meet the state's requirements for surgical centers that use general anesthesia, that it was not state-licensed, Medicare-certified or privately accredited.

Her family is suing her surgeons, nurse and the surgery center, all of whom deny any wrongdoing. An April trial date is scheduled.

Hennessy-Fiske's piece notes that legislation proposed this year that would have required all doctor-owned surgical centers to be state-licensed. It passed the state Senate, won support from the governor but was blocked in the Assembly thanks to the meddling of doctors' groups.

The legislator who sponsored the bill plans to try again next year, with the hoped-for support on new Gov. Jerry Brown.

In the meantime, more Marcia Garcias continue to go under the knife, especially here in Orange County, without a clue about the facilities.

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