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Canton Man Joins Hundreds that Seek Justice Against Rochester Cancer Doctor

Dr. Farid Fata's patients and their family members gather, network in Rochester Hills.

Angela Swantek addresses patients and family members Wednesday. Photo Credit: John McKay
Angela Swantek addresses patients and family members Wednesday. Photo Credit: John McKay
This article was written by John McKay

When Matt Fiems of Canton began taking his mother, Susan, of White Lake, to Dr. Farid Fata's former Michigan Hematology Oncology office in downtown Rochester in 2007 for treatments for ovarian cancer, he was taken aback by the size of Fata's operation.

"I called it Fata Incorporated," he said. "Once you were referred, you got his diagnosis, his prescription of chemotherapy at his infusion centers."

The operation was so large, in fact, Fiems said he and his mother had a difficult time finding a seat in the waiting room, which he said would overflow with patients on a regular basis.

"His offices were always very crowded," he said.

Fiems' mother succumbed to cancer that had spread to her pancreas in 2008. On Aug. 6, Fata was arrested on federal charges alleging the doctor improperly administered chemotherapy and other treatments to his cancer patients as part of a staggering Medicare billing fraud scheme that netted his practice up to $35 million over the past two years.

The federal complaint against Fata alleges both patients who were in remission and at end-of-life continued to receive chemotherapy treatments from Fata. Fiems said he believes his mother was given such treatments well past the point where it would be effective at preserving his mother's life.

"It sounds like she was getting chemo past the time she was supposed to," he said. "I found out when my wife called me on the phone about his arrest. I had to turn off the car. I just had to get myself back together. To think that this person probably stole her quality of life, my mom could have spent the rest of her life in a better way. That's just a lot to take in."

'We're an Army'

Fiems, who joined more than 350 other patients and family members Wednesday at Rochester Hills' ConCorde Inns—just steps from where FBI agents raided Fata's offices on Aug. 6—is now seeking justice against Fata.

"I have to," he said. "My mom isn't around anymore, so I have to do it."

When Fiems attended a court hearing for Fata two weeks ago, he began to network with others who had experiences with Fata. A Facebook page organized by Geraldine Parkin of Davison, Patients & Family Treated by Dr. Fata, continues to expand, boasting 1,046 members as of Wednesday evening, and Fiems says he has developed strong friendships with group members in the weeks following Fata's arrest. 

"We're not just individuals anymore," Fiems said. "We're an army. We're going to pursue this until we get justice."

For the patients and family members, justice could come both in the form of a lengthy prison sentence for Fata, if convicted, as well as monetary damages awarded in a litany of malpractice suits against Fata's practice. Lawyers representing various Detroit-area firms met with patients and family members Wednesday in Rochester Hills.

'Very thorny litigation' ahead

The amount of damages, malpractice lawyer Brian McKeen of Detroit-based McKeen & Associates said, depends on the type of malpractice coverage Fata and his firm had in place, and judgments can vary according to each patient's individual circumstances. 

McKeen, who spoke to the ConCorde Inn crowd on Wednesday, said those who feel they have a valid malpractice case should consult with a lawyer immediately because of periods of limitations in place in Michigan. Those looking to file civil suits against Fata must do so within six months of discovering negligence and within six years of when the alleged acts occurred. 

But, McKeen warned, plenty of information still will need to be divulged, such as whether additional people may face charges and whether hospitals that shared a relationship with Fata are deemed to have had a role in the case. Fata most recently operated Michigan Hematology Oncology out of the Crittenton Cancer Center in Rochester Hills, which had been known as the Karmanos-Crittenton Cancer Center until mid-2011. Fata moved his practice from downtown Rochester to the Rochester Hills building earlier that year. 

"It will be a very thorny litigation," he said. 

For some, arrest validates initial concerns

For Liz Lupo of Oakland Township, the charges against Fata validate concerns she had while the doctor treated her mother, Marianne, for lung cancer from 2006 through 2007 at his former Rochester office.

Lupo said her mother continued to receive chemotherapy treatments through the end of her life, causing suffering and decreasing her mother's quality of life.

"(Fata) told her that her tumors were shrinking and I don't believe that was correct," Lupo said. "I later found out that her cancer had spread."

One person who says she spotted—and reported—warning signs is oncology nurse Angela Swantek of Shelby Township, who visited Fata's former downtown Rochester office in 2010 while looking to work closer to home.

"Within 15 minutes of being in his office, I knew there was no way I'd be accepting a position in his office," Swantek said, noting she observed improper mixing and administering of chemotherapy. Swantek said she notified the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs about her concerns, but was told 13 months later by the department that no violations could be found. 

"When I reported him to the state, my complaint was strictly about patients being mistreated," she said. "It had nothing to do with overbilling or misdiagnoses."

Fata's lawyer, Chris Andreoff, has disputed Swantek's claims.

"The government has not retained an expert to give an opinion that there was a mistreatment or misdiagnosis or unnecessary tests given to any patient," Andreoff told WXYZ-TV. "These are just general allegations that may be coming from disgruntled employees."

Swantek said she never hid her feelings about Fata, even when the two shared a building at the former Karmanos-Crittenton Cancer Center in Rochester Hills where Swantek worked for Karmanos and Fata operated Michigan Hematology Oncology. On the day Fata was arrested, Swantek said she was inundated with phone calls.

"The date he was arrested my phone blew up because everyone knew how I felt about the man," she said. "I thought to myself, I filed my complaint in April 2010 and now it's August 2013. How many people did he harm in that three-year term that could have been spared?"

Victims and family members seeking medical files seized during the Aug. 6 raid of Fata's offices can retrieve copies from the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office. Click here for additional information.
David H. Gorski August 23, 2013 at 08:51 AM
<blockquote>Fata most recently operated Michigan Hematology Oncology out of the Crittenton Cancer Center in Rochester Hills, which had been known as the Karmanos-Crittenton Cancer Center until mid-2011. Fata moved his practice from downtown Rochester to the Rochester Hills building earlier that year. </blockquote> As a member of the medical staff at the Karmanos Cancer Institute, I must point out that Dr. Fata was never a member of our medical staff, and that the Karmanos-Crittenton joint venture that was dissolved two years ago never involved Dr. Fata's practice.

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