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Former CCS Oncology chief charged by Health Department in patient deaths

The state Health Department has charged the former president of CCS Oncology with gross negligence and incompetence in his treatment of seven patients, including six who died.

Dr. W. Sam Yi, a radiation oncologist, faces an administrative hearing that could lead to the loss or suspension of his medical license, according to documents posted on the department's website Monday.

CCS Oncology, once one of the region's largest private cancer practices, and its non-oncology branch, CCS Medical, shut down in April after FBI agents raided CCS locations in Erie and Niagara counties and after the practice filed for bankruptcy protection.

The details in the Health Department filing align closely with lawsuits filed by former patients, or their estates, who claim Yi and CCS Oncology provided inadequate treatment.

Yi and his attorneys have repeatedly denied those charges. The Buffalo News on Monday could not reach the lawyer representing Yi in the Health Department matter.

Yi, who began practicing medicine in New York in 2006, served as president and CEO of CCS Oncology and led a rapid expansion of the practice. He bought the company in 2008 and is its sole shareholder.

But CCS had struggled financially since 2016, when Independent Health announced it was removing CCS Oncology from its network. Several vendors and lenders had sued CCS and Yi for nonpayment.

Things came to a head this spring. The FBI in March raided CCS locations, seizing reams of financial and other information as part of an investigation into possible Medicare fraud at the practice.

On April 2, CCS filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and weeks later the practice shuttered its doors. The company continues to go through the bankruptcy process.

The FBI raid came months after The Buffalo News in June 2017 reported that federal authorities are looking into whether CCS Oncology defrauded taxpayers out of millions of dollars a year.

CCS' Orchard Park location.  The practice reported assets of $3.5 million and liabilities of $27.2 million in a document filed with U.S. Bankruptcy Court last week. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

In addition to the federal investigation, a whistleblower in 2016 filed a related civil lawsuit arguing the practice’s physicians and other staffers engaged in widespread fraud and other misconduct, including billing for more expensive procedures than were actually performed, billing for procedures that never were performed and performing medically unnecessary procedures on patients.

In a 2017 interview, Yi flatly denied any misconduct.

The whistleblower suit remains under seal in federal district court, and a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice did not respond to a message seeking an update on the federal probe.

However, the state Health Department has charged Yi administratively following its own investigation.

The state accuses Yi of misconduct in treating seven patients between 2009 and 2013 at various CCS locations. The five male and two female patients, identified as Patient A through Patient G, ranged in age from 27 to 72.

Yi, for example, is accused of providing whole-brain radiation therapy to a 43-year-old female patient for about six weeks in 2012 "contrary to medical indications" and without taking into account prior doses of such treatment. The patient died on Dec. 20, 2012.

In a second case, Yi is accused of treating the 72-year-old male patient with prostate radiation therapy that exceeded commonly prescribed doses for his disease and without considering alternative treatments.

This treatment, including potentially unnecessary radiation therapy for the patient's jaw, didn't take into account previous rounds of radiation "and thus exceeded appropriate tissue tolerances," the state contends. That patient died on March 14, 2012.

Those and similar courses of treatment outlined in the Health Department filing led the state Board for Professional Medical Conduct to charge Yi with "gross negligence," "gross incompetence," negligence and incompetence "on more than one occasion" and failing to maintain records.

The state's administrative charges mirrors allegations in several medical malpractice lawsuits filed in state Supreme Court.

Patients, or their families, filed seven lawsuits against CCS Oncology or its affiliates between 2015 and 2017. In three of those cases, the patient died.

It's not clear how much overlap, if any, there is between those lawsuits and the state charges.

A hearing was scheduled before a committee on professional misconduct for Sept. 17 and 18 in Albany, the document states. It's not clear when or if Yi will learn whether his license is revoked or suspended, whether he will have to pay a fine or whether he will face no punishment at all.

Jill Montag, a department spokeswoman, said the agency can't comment beyond what is included in the publicly available document.

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