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The trouble with rehab, Malibu-style

Lawsuits and violations reveal problems in a luxury cottage industry for the addicted.

October 09, 2007|Paul Pringle | Times Staff Writer

Hollywood rehab can produce unhappy endings, even when the patient isn't named Lindsay or Britney.

That's what Kelly Logan learned when he sought treatment for a methamphetamine addiction at Promises Malibu, detox destination to the stars.

Logan's brother, Garfield, says he paid $42,000 up front to admit the former professional surfer for a month at Promises' canyon-top Mediterranean-style home. Five days later, he says, Promises kicked Logan out for belligerent behavior but kept all the money.

"They're scam artists," said Garfield Logan, a plaintiff in one of four consumer-rights, breach-of-contract and unfair-business-practice lawsuits filed against Promises Malibu and its Westside branch in the last year. Promises has denied the allegations.

The suits and state licensing violations reveal a little-seen side to the high-end rehabilitation centers that have become a Malibu cottage industry and -- thanks to such patrons as Promises alums Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears -- a tabloid feeding ground.

The legal problems also reflect how the Malibu properties -- the area has one of the densest concentrations of rehab retreats in the nation, experts say -- can differ from industry norms, as represented by the Betty Ford Center, Hazelden, Phoenix House and other leaders in addiction treatment.

All of the Malibu centers are for-profit enterprises in a field dominated by not-for-profits. With luxury as a principal appeal, many charge far more than the going rate for residential care. Court records indicate that Promises' fee is more than double the $23,000 cost for a month at Betty Ford.

At the same time, Promises and fierce rival Passages Addiction Cure Center make sweeping claims on their websites about their clinical successes and reputations, purporting to have few or no equals in the world. Addiction researchers say the boasts are virtually impossible to substantiate.

In addition, Promises, Passages and other Malibu rehab firms have identified on their websites a number of psychiatrists and other physicians as staff members, even though the centers are not licensed to provide medical care.

Instead, they are limited to offering services such as detox monitoring that does not require medical treatment; group and individual counseling; and addiction education, state officials say. Over the last few years, Promises and several other centers that do business in Malibu have been cited by state regulators for providing medical services outside the scope of their licenses.

Until recently, the Promises website said the center had a medical staff led by Jack Kuo, director of psychiatry; and Robert Saltzman, medical director. The site no longer refers to a medical staff, and it describes Kuo and Saltzman as "independent affiliates" with the title "independent detox specialist."

The changes occurred after The Times inquired about Promises' operations. The center did not respond to questions about the physicians, and attempts to interview Kuo and Saltzman were unsuccessful.

Two doctors, Robert Waldman and M. David Lewis, have been listed as staff internist and psychiatrist, respectively, and sometimes "addictionologist," on the websites of at least three of the 11 centers that run rehab houses in the Malibu area. Renaissance Malibu described Lewis as an "adjunct" staffer; Waldman was listed as the "medical director" of Cliffside Malibu, but his staff designation has been changed on the website to "M.D./detox."

Bruce Moorman, intake coordinator at the Canyon, a center that identifies Waldman and Lewis as staffers, said there was nothing misleading about the characterization. "They take care of our clients," Moorman said. "They're on site more than not."

Don Grant, director of Harmony Place, whose website also lists Waldman and Lewis under the staff heading, said they do not provide medical care but "monitor the detox" of patients. The state cited Harmony in 2005 for advertising "medical detoxification services" on its website and contracting with physicians.

Grant said Harmony now strictly adheres to the state rules and that Waldman and Lewis are part of the center's "ancillary staff."

"They are not paid by us," he said. "Our clients contract with them independently."

Asked about the website staff listings for several Malibu centers, Lisa Fisher, spokeswoman for the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, which licenses the firms, said the agency planned to investigate. "There should be no medical staff," Fisher said. "No medical services."

Fisher said the Malibu centers are allowed to recommend doctors to patients but that they should not create the impression that they have in-house physicians available to prescribe and administer drugs or provide other types of medical care.

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