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Surgical institute sues Florida for $500M for harassment, shutdown

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  • | 5:00 p.m. April 4, 2024
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The Bonati Spine Institute of Hudson, in Pasco County, filed a $500 million lawsuit against the state of Florida alleging a wrongful shutdown in 2023, as well as harassment and defamation by state officials.

The institute, in a Thursday news release, says it filed a nine-count lawsuit in federal court against the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, citing civil rights violations, conspiracy by state officials, defamation and libel.

Alfred Bonati, chief surgeon of the Bonati Spine Institute.
Courtesy image

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Middle District of Florida in Tampa after the state agency shut down Dr. Alfred Bonati's ambulatory surgery center in March 2023 based on what Bonati says are false accusations. He also accuses the state of interfering with ongoing business relationships in an effort to damage the practice’s reputation, the complaint says.

Bonati named three state employees and says the state knew the allegations to be false.

According to the complaint, the state agency, responsible for regulating health care facility licenses, issued an emergency suspension order March 15, 2023, and immediately suspended the license of the Medical Development Corp. of Pasco County, the ambulatory surgery center affiliated with The Bonati Spine Institute. Both are owned by Bonati.

The false allegation included a certified surgical technologist performing an "entire spine surgery," Bonati says in the lawsuit, something he denies.

"These allegations were not only knowingly false, but done in a deliberate effort to damage our facility and the reputation of our owner, Dr. Bonati,” says Kimberly Bonati, senior vice president of media and communications for The Bonati Spine Institute.

Kimberly Bonati says the unique nature of their spinal surgery makes the substitution of an unqualified operator unlikely.

"A major piece of our success over the last 40 years has been the development of our unique approach to anesthesia where our patients remain awake and communicating with their surgeon throughout their surgical procedure," says Kimberly Bonati in the news release. "Because of this unique interaction between patient and surgeon, it would be impossible for anyone other than the patient’s surgeon to perform surgery in our facility."

The suspension of Medical Development Corp.'s license shut down The Bonati Institute's ambulatory surgery center, leading to a struggle to reopen that initially appellate courts denied.

Bonati says the spring 2023 campaign against him by the state led to a leaked emergency suspension order, "resulting in negative publicity against Dr. Bonati individually, despite not being specifically named in the Emergency Suspension Order," the complaint says.

The lawsuit says that shortly after the ambulatory surgery center was shut down, surgeons and team members from The Bonati Spine Institute were then credentialed at another ambulatory surgery center in Tampa so they could continue treating patients who were still in the course of receiving treatment.

But state health employees showed up days later to that ambulatory surgery center in Tampa, looking for Alfred Bonati on several occasions, despite having no regulatory authority over Bonati's medical license, the lawsuit says.

When they did not find him, the state health representatives "harassed the employees of the unnamed Tampa surgery center, who then cut ties with surgeons from The Bonati Spine Institute to avoid further harassment from the state," the complaint says.

"I cannot sit back and allow this type of targeted abuse, harassment and false allegations against myself, my team or our patients to stand," Alfred Bonati says in a statement. "(The Florida state agency) must be held to account for its actions, and those who were responsible for this gross devastation must face justice."

According to the lawsuit, the health care agency agreed to a settlement permitting Medical Development Corp. of Pasco County to resume operations on July 7, 2023, without any public comment on the matter. The Bonati Spine Institute now seeks $500 million for "substantial damage in the form of lost revenue and reputational harm."

Bonati says he developed and patented multiple surgical techniques, commonly referred to today as "minimally invasive" spine surgery, that allows patients to receive a series of "targeted surgical procedures designed to eliminate a patient’s pathology and symptomatology and allow them to return to normal activities within days."

Bonati's practice in the United States began in 1981, and he claims to have performed nearly 80,000 spine surgeries.


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