Two of the four physicians who have been screening patients and supervising their care at two Arlington weight loss clinics run by an Arizona corporation are not licensed to practice medicine in Virginia.
One of the unlicensed physicians was fired by the clinics, Weight Reduction Centers Inc., after a reporter asked about the status of the men's medical licenses, a clinic official said yesterday. The other doctor a recent medical resident at Howard University Hospital in Washington quit his job a week ago.
A Weight Reduction official said the firm hired the men without asking for proof that they were graduates of medical schools, let alone licensed practioners. He said he later asked for proof the men were licensed.
Practicing medicine without a license is a misdemeanor in Virginia, punishable on the first offense by a fine of $50 to $500 and up to six months in jail. Each subsequent offense - and every day of illegal practice counts as a subsequent offense - is punishable by a fine of $100 to $500 and up to a year in jail.
If a person practices medicine without a license and receives money for his work, he can be charged with larceny, a felony, and punished by a prison term of up to 20 years.
Arlington County Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Arthur Karp said his office was unaware of the situation at the diet clinics but said the matter would be referred to police for investigation.
When asked about the qualifications of the physicians, Joseph Lightman who described himself as a "district supervisor" for Weight Reduction Centers, first said, "All these physicians are fully qualified . . . generally they are full-blown private sector physicians. Many times they're guys who are trying to supplement on income."
According to the American Medical Association, which maintains computerized records of physicians licensed to practice medicine throughout the country, and the medical licensing boards of Maryland, the District and Virginia, neither Curtis Lee Lynch nor Alva Roy Heron Jr., who worked in the chain's Arlington weight loss clinics, is licensed to practice medicine.
When informed of the records search, Lightman replied, "I'm breathless. I don't know how to tell you any better."
Asked if he ran any background checks on the physicians, Lightman said, "No reply."
According to the records of the AMA, Curtis Lee Lynch is a 38-year-old North Carolina native who graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1974. He completed his internship at Howard and on June 30 of this year completed a three-year residency in internal medicine.
Officials of the Maryland State Board of Medical Examiners said Lynch took a national competency exam last month and applied for a Maryland license, but as of last week had not received that license. It takes about six to eight weeks to receive the exam results, the officials said. In any case, Lynch was working in Virginia, where a Maryland license would not have been valid.
Lynch and Heron could not be reached for comment.
Heron completed an internship at Howard last month and began a residency in internal medicine there. Officials in Maryland, the District and Virginia all said they have no record that a license to practice was ever issued to him.
Dr. Charles Ireland, director of Howard University Hospital, said the hospital has no jurisdiction over Lynch, who has completed his residency, but "will be looking into the details" of Heron's situation "immediately."
"We do not condone this in any way," said Ireland. He said Heron could not be reached yesterday by hospital officials, but said the chief of internal medicine and the dean of the Medicial School will investigate the situation and act within about a week. "This is a serious thing," he said, "and it involves his career."
Michael Lightman, brother of Joseph Lightman and identified by Joseph Lightman as secretary-treasurer of the parent corporation, said Lynch quit his job more than a week ago. Heron, said Michael lightman, "was terminated either (Thursday) or Wednesday."
"All clients being seen by either of those parties have been reexamined by a licensed physician in the state of Virginia and the proper authorities have been notified," he said. "We have never, nor do we intend, to have any of our clients seen by physicians who are not licensed in their respective states."
According to Joseph Lightman, the clinics charge a minimum of $165 for four weeks of daily visits, a preliminary physical examination designed to screen out anyone who is not in good enough health to go on a calorie limited diet, laboratory tests and case review by a physician.
A licensed physician who worked for the clinics said the program amounts to putting a patient on a limited diet, telling him to take vitamins, and prodding and encouraging him on a daily basis to stay on the diet.
The two Arlington clinics, at 200 N. Glebe Road and at 1111 N. 19th St., are among six the firm operates in the Washington area. There have been no complaints about unlicensed physicians at the other clinics.
According to Michael Lightman the chain has about 80 locations nationwide and 4,000 patients.