Early last year, Irma Carabajal LeCroy was a successful Dallas real estate broker who owned two homes, a luxury car, an SUV and a small office building. Today, she is out of work, uses a walker and wheelchair to get around and says she has nothing left to her name.
And it's because of what she thought was a minor cosmetic surgery procedure.
LeCroy is one of a growing number of women who have had liposuction, sometimes combined with fat-transfer surgery, in doctors' offices or med spas -- salon-like medical facilities that have doctors on the premises and offer skin care treatments, such as Botox injections, facials and laser resurfacing.
Some patients have found themselves disfigured or disabled. Others have died. Critics say the victims may not know that the rules that govern hospitals do not necessarily apply to the medical offices or spas popping up across the country. That's where a new breed of cosmetic surgeon now practices, often down the hall from where they do routine physicals, perform gynecological exams or pull wisdom teeth, according to state regulators, lawyers and plastic surgeons.
USA TODAY reported last year that only half of states require licensing or accreditation of medical offices where surgery is performed. But even when there are office-based surgery rules or laws in place, they often aren't enough, critics say. For example, most accreditation or licensing rules cover surgeries only if the patient is fully anesthetized. Some rules apply only if private insurance or Medicare is billed, which typically isn't the case in cosmetic procedures.
There are now about 4,500 med spas in the United States, up from about 800 five years ago, says Allan Share, executive director of the International Medical Spa Association. The growth of med spas has states scrambling to figure out how much legal oversight is needed. The Federation of State Medical Boards recently hosted a workshop for medical board attorneys that covered the regulatory oversight of med spas and office-based cosmetic surgery.
State medical boards and the laws regulating the practice of medicine were "created 100 years ago when cosmetic procedures or surgeries weren't anything that anyone had contemplated," says Mari Robinson, executive director of the Texas Medical Board. "It was about treating illness and disease -- not this idea of people personally pursuing medical procedures solely based on improving their appearance."
In September, Maryland's health department shut down the Monarch Medspa in Timonium after three women contracted Group A Streptococcus infections during liposuction and one died. The department cited "deviations from standard infection control practices."
The Group A Streptococci bacteria, which can cause strep throat, are often found in the throat and on the skin and are spread through direct contact with mucus from infected people or contaminated surfaces, according to the health department. Most of these infections are relatively mild, such as with strep throat, but they can cause serious and even life-threatening complications.
Joshua Sharfstein, Maryland's secretary of Health and a pediatrician, sent a letter to three committee chairmen in the Maryland legislature last month asking them to tighten laws governing outpatient surgery. The existing law doesn't apply to outpatient surgery centers unless insurance companies are involved, according to a department press release. Health insurance typically covers only medically necessary or reconstructive plastic surgery after cancer. He also asked that the state Board of Physicians database include information on whether doctors perform cosmetic surgery and whether their facility is accredited.
Most Popular Stories
- SEO Traffic Lab Celebrate Wins at Digital Marketing Event 'Internet World 2013' in London
- Social Media Initiatives Should Follow Customers' Lead
- Apple CEO: Offshore Units Not a 'Tax Gimmick'
- U.S. Senate Accuses Apple of Large-scale Tax Avoidance
- UTEP Water Recycling Project Wins Venture Titles
- Marketo Makes a Mint in IPO: Stock Shoots Up More than 50 Percent
- Bieber Booed at Billboard Awards
- Crude Oil Up, Gasoline Down
- Austin Startup Compare Metrics Raises $3.5 Million for Expansion
- Why So Many Top 'Car Guys' Are Actually Women