Berman: $1 million worth of unneeded chemotherapy
Ervin Jones, 72, wears a permanent reminder of his long association with the notorious Dr. Farid Fata: a quarter-sized medical port implanted in his chest.
Jones believed for years that the device, an entryway for chemotherapy, was his link to a future, a connection that would prolong his life. Diagnosed with a bone marrow cancer, myelodysplastic syndrome, he was given four years to live.
But Jones’ treatment halted when Fata was arrested and jailed for $34 million in Medicare fraud, a hospice kickback scheme and other crimes in August 2013. (He pleaded guilty last year and awaits sentencing this summer.) That same month, Jones discovered he didn’t have MDS and likely never had it.
The port wasn’t curing Jones, but it was providing Fata’s medical empire with a river of income. Between 2009 and 2013, Ervin Jones was worth $1 million in billable treatments to Fata’s network of Rochester-based clinics, Michigan Hematology and Oncology. A million dollars worth of chemotherapy. He says Fata told him the treatments would continue for his lifetime.
“You don’t know whether to laugh or cry when you find out something like this,” he said during an interview in his Rochester Hills living room. A retired UAW representative, Jones is a personable man, comfortable with people. He liked Farid Fata and trusted him completely. Betrayed, he now regards Fata as the criminal who tried to kill him.
Jones is one of two patients identified in federal documents by their horrific situations and initials: Both M.F. and E.J. were treated with chemotherapy for cancer they never had. Last week, after a Detroit News story identified Monica Flagg, a Rochester nonprofit owner, as one of those two victims, Jones came forward.
“I’m the second guy that got chemo but didn’t have cancer,” he said.
In a quirk of circumstance, his wife, Dina, and Monica Flagg are best friends: Jones and Flagg share an internist who referred each of them to Fata.
“If she hadn’t broken her leg, I’d probably still be getting treatments,” he says of Flagg. While being treated at Crittenton Hospital for the broken leg, she was told she did not have cancer — a discovery that weeks later led to Fata’s arrest.
Between 2009 and 2013, the Joneses’ lives were ruled by an exacting chemotherapy schedule: He received treatment with Vidaza for seven days out of every 28. The drug made him sleepy but was otherwise tolerable. Month after month, his blood counts were normal.
“They couldn’t be any more perfect, and I’d ask Fata, ‘Can we stop now?’ He’d just chuckle and say, ‘Oh, no, we can’t do that. It’ll go into leukemia if we do that.’ ”
Jones ate more healthfully. He quit drinking alcohol. But he didn’t reinvent himself. “I am one of those people who feel blessed with my life. There was nothing left undone that I needed to do,” he says.
After Fata was arrested, Jones was called by the FBI and given his medical records. He consulted with an MDS specialist at the University of Michigan, who found no evidence of the disease he’d been diagnosed with. He has been free of medication and any sign of the blood disease for three years.
But his life is irrevocably changed.
“Prior to Fata putting all that junk into him, Erv was very healthy,” says Dina. “Now he can’t walk around the block.” He underwent a triple bypass operation that helped, but didn’t cure, his sudden, new heart condition. He is no longer able to travel as he once did. “We can’t do many of the things we used to do,” Dina says.
The kind, brilliant doctor Jones once admired as a hero turned out to be a man who saw him as “a dollar sign and nothing else.” That devastating knowledge doesn’t haunt Jones, but it does cause him pain — and every so often, he imagines himself alone in a room with Fata, exacting revenge.