ND attorney general launches investigation into stem cell clinic
BISMARCK—The North Dakota Attorney General's office has launched an investigation of a Bismarck stem cell clinic.
The state Consumer Protection Division initiated a formal investigation of West 2 North Medical Solutions after receiving consumer complaints, a move clinic leadership characterized as unfounded and unfair.
West 2 North has been offering stem cell injections at its Bismarck-based clinic for about a week and a half. Parrell Grossman of the Consumer Protection Division said his office is reserving any judgment until the conclusion of the investigation but encourages anyone considering the treatment to consult a physician first.
"While we await the results of our final investigation, we are initially very alarmed about the information we have learned to date," Grossman said.
The investigation was started as a result of six consumer calls and two consumer complaints fielded by the attorney general's office, as well as calls received by the North Dakota Board of Medicine, North Dakota State Board of Chiropractic Examiners and the North Dakota Board of Nursing, Grossman said. The clinic's owners say they were initially contacted by Consumer Protection Division before seeing a single patient.
"It's early in our investigation," Grossman reiterated.
There are concerns over alleged misrepresentations and questions over whether all available information is being given to potential patients. Grossman said his office doesn't want to discourage patients from seeking medical treatments but does want to ensure people are properly informed.
For example, Grossman said his office has received reports that one of the people involved, Dean Jones, is representing himself as a doctor. Jones is a chiropractor but is not licensed to practice chiropractic work in the state.
There are two nurse practitioners, who are licensed in the state, involved in the clinic.
Jones studied to be a chiropractor in California and said he got into stem cell treatment as a way to help people in a manner that allows chiropractors, physical therapists and medical doctors to work together in one setting.
"Multidisciplinary practices are the future of medicine. Bismarck must not have a lot of clinics that do that," said Jones, who has has stem cell regeneration clinics in three states, including California, Colorado and North Dakota.
Grossman said he's also received reports that, during seminars about the treatments given in Bismarck and Minot, attendees were told the treatment could help with any ailment, that the injections work better than surgery and would never hurt someone.
These are claims that should be determined by medical experts, according to Grossman, who said the treatment does not appear to be one of the stem cell treatments approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and this was not fully disclosed by presenters at the seminars.
Jones denies the disclosure allegations and said he makes no actual medical claims during his presentation. Though he says he does feel comfortable sharing the positive results he has seen in patients at his other clinics and from clinical trials.
Jones said there is a lack of information because no other clinics are offering this type of service in the area and the seminars are held for those who want to learn about regenerative medicine.
The clinic does have literature from the Stem Cell Institute of America, based in Canton, Ga., said Grossman, adding it contains some "telling disclosures" that have raised concerns. For example, the end user is responsible for determining the appropriate application and usage of the injections and there is no claim the treatment is a cure for any condition, disease or injury.
One complaint the Consumer Protection Division received was from a woman on behalf of her 90-year-old father, whom she described as not having the capacity to make such decisions. She says her father was charged around $6,000 for the injection, which isn't covered by insurance, though Grossman said the clinic did tell its office it could potentially issue a refund.
A phone complaint received by the Consumer Protection Division described a high-pressure sales situation, with multiple calls to a home to get residents to attend the seminar.
At the seminar, consumers are told the cost for the procedure would be from $4,000 to $6,000. But one woman said, when she arrived at the clinic, she was then told it would be $10,000 for her back treatment. When she started to walk out, the price was dropped to $8,000, which she paid despite her concerns.
During her treatment, the woman also said she was given an X-ray, which was then reviewed and commented on by non-medical personnel, an action Grossman's office indicated is inappropriate. The clinic then attempted to sell her a special chair and back brace.
Jones said, in his presentations, two price points are given and the woman must have missed the information about the higher price for back and spinal treatments. He said the clinic has not been contacted by any of the consumers with complaints and most of the feedback and results he has heard from clinic staff have been positive so far.
Grossman said his office has concerns over the vulnerability of consumers and the fact that they're agreeing so quickly to the treatments, often sitting in the seminar Thursday and receiving treatment the following Monday.
"Often times when someone is experiencing pain and nothing is helping, they go looking for other solutions," he said.
According to the FDA, there are a limited number of stem cell therapies approved by the agency, including ones involving bone marrow, for bone marrow transplants in cancer care, and cord blood for specific blood-related disorders. There are no approved stem cell treatments for other diseases.
Grossman said stem cell treatments appear to be a "burgeoning area" that his counterparts in attorneys general offices across the country are "just starting to explore."
But Jones said he is passionate about this field and providing an option to people in Bismarck that didn't previously exist.
"It's disappointing to know I have to go through this just to want to help people," he said.