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Flushing eye doc charged with defrauding patient

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A Flushing doctor was arrested last week on charges of health care fraud for allegedly performing eye surgery on a Queens mentally ill patient who did not need the procedure, federal prosecutors said.

Dr. Shaul Debbi, a resident of Great Neck, L.I., was arrested last Thursday, said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York James Comey in a statement. Debbi, who has an office at 60-03 150th St. in Flushing and another in Brooklyn, had surrendered to authorities after being charged on May 10, prosecutors said.

Debbi, a 48-year-old Israeli and an American citizen, was released on a $1 million bond secured by a second mortgage on his home, prosecutors said. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted, prosecutors said.

A significant portion of the ophthalmol­ogist’s practice consisted of treating patients in institutionalized settings, prosecutors said. In the fall of 1999, Debbi began paying a medical coordinator for access to residents at the Leben Home for Adults, a for-profit adult home of about 290 residents in Elmhurst, prosecutors said. The home provides care for adults with both physical and mental disabilities.

At the Leben Home, Debbi examined a mentally ill resident in the fall of 1999, even though the patient had not complained of any vision problems, prosecutors said.

Debbi then scheduled a second appointment with the patient at his office at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Brooklyn, prosecutors said. The patient was transferred to St. Joseph’s, and after a second examination Debbi told the patient that he had cataracts in both eyes, prosecutors said.

Debbi performed the surgery on the patient’s right eye several weeks later, prosecutor said. The patient experienced problems with his vision in his right eye, canceled the scheduled surgery for his left eye and sought medical treatment at the Veterans Administration Hospital in September 2000, prosecutors said. Doctors at the hospital found that the patient’s right eye was damaged by Debbi’s procedure and that his left eye never had a cataract, prosecutors said.

Leon Hofman, the home’s administrator, said he was hired in March as part of a change in staffing.

Hofman, who never met Debbi, said he could not comment about him. He said the home did not have control over doctors who treat many of their patients.

“We do not hire the physicians,” he said. “If a clinician or a physician makes a decision to do this or that, that’s beyond our scope.”

John Wing, Debbi’s attorney, could not be reached for comment.

“This prosecution should send a clear message that doctors who are entrusted to provide sound medical care for their patients, including the mentally ill who are among the most vulnerable of patients, will be vigorously prosecuted for their efforts to profit from performing unnecessary procedures on their patients,” said Comey.

Debbi profited from the surgery by taking money from the Medicare Program, FBI Special Agent Robert Hilland said in a sworn affidavit.

The Leben home has been under scrutiny from regulators recently.

Last year several members of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, an advocacy group for the mentally ill, found the facility’s conditions to be “deplorable,” NAMI representatives wrote in a letter to Gov. George Pataki.

The New York Times reported that residents of the Leben home were subject to prostate surgery without legitimate examinations.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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