CBC interview with Brian Clement.

CBC interview with Brian Clement.

Brian Clement is a charlatan. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be a problem for the State of Florida. I made two (which turned into three) attempts to get the state to take action against Clement or the Hippocrates Health Institute, where he serves with his wife Anna Maria Gahns-Clement as co-director. All of them failed. Brian Clement slithered through the cracks in Florida law each time.

Before we get into the details of Florida’s failure to act, a bit of history (and there is plenty of it) is in order.

In recent months, Clement’s sordid cancer quackery has been well-documented in the media as well as in the science “blogosphere”. (I’ve listed what I hope is a — but almost certainly isn’t — complete blog archive at the end of this post. Many of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation [CBC] and other news reports are linked in these posts.) Most of the coverage has centered on two Canadian girls suffering from lymphoblastic leukemia whose parents pulled them from conventional cancer therapies, which gave them an excellent chance of survival, in favor of treatment at the Hippocrates Health Institute (HHI), a sprawling spa in West Palm Beach, Florida, licensed as a massage establishment by the state.

Clement gave a talk in Canada, in 2014, claiming “we’ve had more people reverse cancer than any institute in the history of health care.” (“We” is the operative word here, because it later served as Clement’s ticket to avoid prosecution by the Florida Board of Medicine, as you shall soon find out.) The girls’ families were impressed.

Sadly, one of the girls, Makayla Sault, died earlier this year. The other, identified only as “JJ” in the media because of a publication ban, has returned to conventional treatment. However, her mother apparently remains under the influence of Clement: JJ is restricted to a raw foods diet and is still being followed, if that is the right word, by HHI.

Other cancer patients have been lured by the false hope Clement and Hippocrates offer: Stephanie O’Halloran, a young Irish woman, the parents of Anael L’Esperance-Nascimentol, a three-year old Canadian boy who went for treatment there, Laurie Ann Prince, Kathyrn Tachell and Kim Curry, also Canadians and all fairly young, and Lajos Tringer. (Tringer is also considering treatment by another cancer quack, Stanislaw Burzynski.) Most of these either drained their own resources or raised funds, or both, to pay the considerable expense of going to Hippocrates. Unfortunately, we know that Stephanie, Kathryn and Kimhave died. I’ve been unable to discover the fate of Aneal and Laurie Ann. Lajos is, as far as I know, still living, but very ill.

Orac, in his inimitable way, has described the services (for lack of a better term) offered at Hippocrates as “cancer quackery on steroids.”

Let’s take a look again at the sorts of treatments offered by Brian Clement as part of HHI’s “Life Transformation Program“. They include:

  • Superior nutrition through a diet of organically-grown, enzyme-rich, raw, life-giving foods
  • Detoxification
  • Wheatgrass therapies, green juice, juice fasting
  • Colonics, enemas, implants
  • Exercise, including cardio, strength training and stretching
  • Far infrared saunas, steam room
  • Ozone pools, including: dead sea salt, swimming, jacuzzi and cold plunge
  • Weekly massages
  • Bio-energy treatments
  • Med-spa & therapy services

Laughably, Clement claims to be a researcher who is “constantly in a position where I’m addressing medical conferences and universities,” and has “a body of evidential science” which demonstrates why he’s observed “tens of thousands of people recovering from catastrophic disease.” Oddly enough, even though HHI has “the number one ratio of having people reverse the aging process and reverse disease than any other organization in the history of man,” a search of PubMed does not disclose a single journal article published by Clement. Really, Mr./Dr. Clement, we implore you, let the rest of the world in on your ground-breaking discoveries. Publish in a top-flight, peer-reviewed science journal, so more lives can be saved. He also claims that “we’re in the middle of a study with the University of California to disprove genetics.” Maybe that research will show up soon in the medical literature. We can only hope.

With that background, we’ll turn to the State of Florida and its failure to stop Brian Clement, who, as we shall see, has embarked on yet another international speaking tour.

Strike one: Operating a healthcare facility without the appropriate state license

I filed a complaint against Hippocrates Health Institute with the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) for operating a health care facility without the proper state license. (Regrettably, none of the AHCA or Florida Department of Health documents I mention in this post are available online.) AHCA licenses health care facilities, such as health clinics and hospitals. As I did with my complaint against Clement, which we’ll get to in a minute, I informed AHCA that these allegations were not based on personal knowledge, but rather upon Canadian media reports. However, in light of what I had read, I felt an obligation to report Clement and Hippocrates to the state. It appeared to me that the health of these girls and others was at stake and that it was appropriate for the state investigate what was going on.

According to a January 28th email from AHCA:

After some additional Agency research, unfortunately this “Health Center” does not meet the definition of a Health Care Clinic, see [Florida Statutes] Section 400.9905(4),

“Clinic” means an entity where health care services are provided to individuals and which tenders charges for reimbursement for such services, including a mobile clinic and a portable equipment provider.

Since this institute is a cash-only business, it does not fall under AHCA’s regulation. The only recommendation I have, is to file complaints with the Department of Health (Board of Medicine) against the individual doctors, thanks.

In other words, since Hippocrates doesn’t get reimbursed by third party payers, such as health insurance companies, it does not need a license and AHCA had no jurisdiction to do anything about the clinic.

A Senate bill was introduced this year in the Legislature to eliminate this loophole in the health care licensing law.

According to Sen. Eleanor Sobel, one of the bill’s sponsors,

flimflam artists and snake-oil salesmen have escaped state scrutiny by running clinics that accept only cash.

Like Clement and Hippocrates, for example.

It wouldn’t matter anyway. Hippocrates would have been exempted if the bill had become law (it died in committee). The licensing law exempts non-profits. The IRS has granted Hippocrates tax-exempt status as a Section 501(c)(3) charitable organization. A non-profit that, according to its 2013 tax return, paid Brian Clement and his wife, Anna Maria, together about $1 million dollars in salary, bonuses and other unspecified income, has $30 million in assets, and took in over $17 million in revenue.

What Hippocrates does have is a massage establishment license issued by the Board of Massage Therapy, for which it pays the paltry sum of $100 per year. The law seems designed to prevent houses of prostitution from operating as fictitious massage parlors, but rank quackery doesn’t appear to be a problem as far as licensing goes.

Strike Two: Department of Health v. Brian Clement, Case No. 2014-19139

On November 13, 2014, I filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Health against Clement for practicing medicine without a license. (The Medical Quality Assurance [MQA] division of the Department investigates unlicensed practice complaints as well as complaints against licensed health care practitioners.) I explained to the MQA that I didn’t have any personal knowledge about Clement’s conduct, but was reporting him based on news stories covering Makayla’s and JJ’s treatment at Hippocrates, including the report that his degrees were from diploma mills and the fact that he is not a state licensed health care practitioner, although he says he’s an NMD on HHI’s website. I specifically included his statements about “reversing cancer,” Makayla’s grave medical condition at the time (I later reported that she had died) and the fact that HHI was continuing to provide care by analyzing the child’s blood test results which are sent by mail. Later, I spoke to an investigator with MQA and gave her links to the HHI website and to a number of Canadian media reports.

On February 10, 2015, the Department of Health issued a “Notice to Cease and Desist” in the case, stating that:

the Department has probable cause to believe that Brian Clement of Hippocrates Health Institute . . . is not licensed by the Department or the Board of Medicine and is practicing medicine without a license. . . .

Wherefore, . . . Brian Clement . . . is hereby notified to cease and desist from practicing medicine in the State of Florida unless and until Brian Clement is appropriately licensed by the Department.

The Department also ordered Clement to pay a fine of $2 500 and costs of $1 238.

On February 16th, an “Unlicensed Activity Investigative Report” was issued by the Department. As investigations go, it seems pretty cursory. It contains copies of only two of the many news reports and one of the many blog posts. Also attached are printouts from the HHI website detailing the appalling quackery offered there, which seems to have bothered exactly no one at the Department.

An investigator went undercover to an appointment with Clement, which elicited, as might be expected, only quack recommendations (including the sale of merchandise from HHI) but no smoking gun statements to the effect that Clement is an MD or specific medical diagnoses or treatments.

The report says that the investigator did not attempt to obtain a release of patient information authorization from the Canadian girls because “their names were not provided or noted in the Canadian News Release,” even though Makayla’s name is clearly given in one of the news stories attached to the investigative report itself, as well as in links to other information provided by me. And it seems that the Department could have at least attempted to discover the identity of JJ through contacting the Canadian government. After all, the ban is on publication of her name, not giving it to the authorities in another jurisdiction doing an investigation of alleged criminal activity. (Practicing medicine without a license is a felony in Florida and, according to the Department, the Sheriff’s Office was notified, although I have a feeling that one will go nowhere too.)

Another person not contacted was Steven Pugh, RN, who is suing the HHI and Clement over his being fired for refusing to follow Clement’s orders. According to a CBC news report, published well before the investigative report was issued, Pugh maintains he could not legally do what Clement told him because the orders were not issued by an MD. Pugh also reported to the CBC that Clement told patients he could “cure” them, prescribed treatments for them, would overrule what their physicians told them and used the term “Dr.” with patients (as he formerly did on the HHI website). Most disturbingly:

They (Clement and his wife) also placed restrictions on when staff could call an ambulance to take patients for emergency medical care at local hospitals, according to Pugh and other former staff.

According to this same news story, the CBC has interviewed both past and present employees who are disturbed by the Clements’ treatment of cancer patients. It also reports that a former HHI physician is suing for breach of contract, alleging he was terminated after he documented concerns that what he was being asked to do at HHI could be illegal.

A search of the public records (in this case, of the 15th Judicial Circuit Court) would have revealed Pugh’s suit, along with two others, against HHI. You’d think a decent investigation would, at the very least, include a search of the public records of the state doing the investigating.

All of this leads me to conclude that the Department should hire the CBC to do its investigations. They do a much better job.

Much to my surprise, I learned from – you’ll not be surprised – the CBC, that the Department, citing insufficient evidence, had dropped all charges against Clement. I called the Department for more information but my call was never returned. Later, when I called about the Department’s second complaint against Clement (see “Strike three,” below), I was told by a Department official why they couldn’t prosecute Clement for the unlicensed practice of medicine. He explained that HHI has a physician on its staff and, by Clement always using the collective “we” (as in, “we can reverse cancer”), he personally was not practicing medicine.

Since we’re on the subject, HHI has a new physician as Medical Director, Tina Discepola, MD. I wondered what sort of physician would associate herself with an operation like HHI and a guy like Clement, especially in light of their well-publicized troubles. Even if you fully believed in what they were doing, you’d have to be wary of stepping into the hornet’s nest of litigation and on-going investigations by the Department of Health. (Pugh has filed his own complaint against Clement.)

In any event, Dr. Discepola is certainly well acquainted with, shall we say, unconventional medical practices. According to her HHI bio, although board-certified as an emergency medicine doctor, she formerly practiced Functional Medicine in New York. She is also into acupuncture and cranial sacral manipulation. She is a Diplomate of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine, Andrew Weil’s brainchild, a Diplomate of the American Board of Anti-Aging Medicine (also, here) which is not recognized as a specialty board by any of the medical specialty-credentialing organizations, and is an “active member” of the American College for the Advancement of Medicine, ditto.

Curiously, while she holds an active license to practice medicine in Florida, according to the Department of Health’s Practitioner Profile, she still lists New York as her residence and states that she does not practice in Florida. I understand that Dr. Discepola is new to Florida, and is likely unfamiliar with the laws and regulations governing medical practice in this state, but she may want to review them, including the state’s rules on physician advertising.

Dr. Paul Kotturan, the former Medical Director, is still on staff, running the “Vida Building” operation, which must surely contain more quackery per square foot than any other building in the state, including, for example, the Aqua Chi ionic detox footbath, which, if it works as advertised:

Your meridians are permeated and re-aligned back to their original strength and placement.

If there is a medical device equivalent of homeopathy, the detox footbath is it.

Strike three: Dietetics & Nutrition Practice Council v. Brian R. Clement, Case No. 2014-19150

In a letter dated March 24, I learned that this complaint had been reviewed by legal staff and recommended for submission to the next Probable Cause Panel. The complaint was another surprise from the Department for me, because I didn’t even know this particular complaint had been filed until the Department sent me an earlier letter.  This time, according to the complaint, it was because Clement illegally used the initials “NMD,” which stands for “Naturopathic Medical Doctor.”

Clement is a licensed nutritional counselor in Florida, but is not a licensed naturopath. (Florida used to licensed naturopaths, but stopped issuing licenses in the 1950s, although the state allowed those with ND licenses to continue their practices. To my knowledge, none of these licensees are still practicing.) As with all types of health care practitioner licensing, nutritional counselors are required to follow certain laws and administrative rules. The complaint alleged Clement violated three separate provisions in advertising himself as an NMD.

Based on this, one might say that the Department of Health is charging Clement with practicing quackery without a license, but that’s not how they see it.

“Nutrition counselors” are no longer licensed in Florida either, but those like Clement and his wife who hold nutrition counselor licenses, can still practice. The state now licenses only registered dietician/nutritionists, who must meet more rigorous requirements than nutrition counselors. (Both are regulated by the Dietetics & Nutrition Council, which operates under the auspices of the Board of Medicine.) Neither of the Clements have the qualifications for the newer license, at the least because they didn’t graduate from an accredited school nor have they taken the current licensing exam.

Nutrition counselors are, by law, limited in their practices to advising people on appropriate nutrition intake by integrating information from an evaluation of nutritional needs, using appropriate data to determine those needs, and making appropriate nutrition recommendations.

It is striking to me that, given the reams of material documenting Clement’s inappropriate nutrition advice, it never occurred to the Department to add a count or two to the complaint for substandard practice as a nutritional counselor. What about wheatgrass, which, as Orac points out, Clement seems to regard as a virtual panacea, and raw foods diets? And what about wheatgrass enemas? Is that an “appropriate” nutrition recommendation?

In the Department’s investigative report, mentioned earlier, we learn that the investigator reviewed the Hippocrates website and confirmed that Clement was using the title NMD. (Gee, notice anything else, Mr. Investigator?) The report notes that Clement had been issued an informal Notice to Cease and Desist in the past for advertising and using the title NMD on the website. Later, when the undercover investigator revealed his true identity, Clement denied using the title “Naturopathic Medical Doctor” on the Hippocrates website, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Brian Clement no longer uses the honorific “Dr.” nor does he list the initials “NMD” on the website. He still uses PhD on his bio page, and the covers of books advertised at the bottom of the page identify him as being an NMD. He says nothing about where he earned any of the claimed degrees. He has been referred to as “a naturopath” or “Naturopathic Medical Doctor” in a couple of news reports, information they must have gotten from somewhere. (Also: “a formally trained biochemist.”)

Clement has variously claimed his degrees came from University of Science, Arts, and Technology (USAT), where he says he earned his PhD and NMD, and Lady Malina Memorial Medical College, where he says he earned a post-grad degree. (Interestingly, for both Brian and Anna Maria, no undergraduate degree is ever mentioned.) But those institutions have been called out as diploma mills in both a CBC report and academic literature. The president of USAT denies Clement was granted an NMD degree by his school.

Anna Maria Ghans-Clement’s HHI bio say she has a PhD in nutrition from “Denmark University” but I could not find that any such institution exists. It refers to her as “working on her nursing degree,” implying that she has one, but does not say whether the degree requirements were completed. Her book covers also show her as having an NMD and one of her book covers shows the book as being authored by “Dr. Anna Maria Clement.”

Nevertheless, once again, the Department backed off. According to the Department’s letter to me of May 20, the probable cause panel determined that probable cause existed to support prosecution of Clement for allegations set forth in the complaint. However:

after the finding of probable cause, the Department discovered correspondence from [Clement’s] counsel that was not available to the probable cause panel during consideration of the case. As a result of this new information, the Department dismissed the Administrative Complaint due to insufficient evidence to prosecute.

They don’t say what information was “discovered” in this letter. A Department official did tell me in a phone conversation that Clement does, in fact, have an NMD degree and that, while he can’t practice as a naturopath, he is not prevented from using those initials after his name. I informed the official that, to my knowledge, he does not have an NMD degree, information that seemed to surprise him. In fact, the denial was reported by the CBC (yes, them again) in 2014, well before the Department acted.

So, where in the world is Brian now? According to his busy speaking schedule he is, at this moment, at the “Real Truth About Health” conference in Orlando where he is identified as an NMD. Then he is off to New York to lecture. (At the Manhattan lecture, attendees will get 10% off HHI’s three-week “Life Transformation Program,” a “$600 value.” Which means, if you do the math, the three weeks normally costs $6,000.) After that, it’s Europe: Norway, Sweden, the UK (he’s still a naturopath according to one of the London announcements), Ireland, Germany (“Dr. Clement”), France, Switzerland and Holland. The announcements indicate Clement is being circumspect about what he says, but who knows what he’ll do when he actually gets there. Clement doesn’t seem like the type who can resist grandiose pronouncements regarding his many self-proclaimed talents. And, of course, once within the confines of the vast acreage of the privately owned (but taxpayer supported) Hippocrates campus, he is virtually free from scrutiny.

The Brian Clement/Hippocrates Health Institute blog archive

Science-Based Medicine

Respectful Insolence

Society for Science-Based Medicine

Other blogs

 

Posted by Jann Bellamy

Jann J. Bellamy is a Florida attorney and lives in Tallahassee. She is one of the founders and Board members of the Society for Science-Based Medicine (SfSBM) dedicated to providing accurate information about CAM and advocating for state and federal laws that incorporate a science-based standard for all health care practitioners. She tracks state and federal bills that would allow pseudoscience in health care for the SfSBM website.  Her posts are archived here.