Baja clinic known for unorthodox care closed
Official: Unauthorized services were provided
By Anna Cearley
and Penni Crabtree
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
September 13, 2007
TIJUANA - For the second time in two years, Baja California health
authorities Tuesday shut down an alternative health clinic that
provided unorthodox treatments to mostly gravely ill U.S. patients.
The clinic, promoted over the Internet by its San Diego-based
marketing arm as Hospital Santa Monica, originally was closed in early
2006 after civil rights activist Coretta Scott King died there.
It had since quietly reopened without a permit under the name Centro
de Atención Integral, Baja California health officials said. But the
clinic was still peddling the unproven treatments of its founder,
Bonita businessman Kurt Donsbach, under the Hospital Santa Monica
This time, the Rosarito Beach clinic was providing unauthorized
services, said Jose Guadalupe Bustamante Moreno, the state's secretary
of health. Health authorities also documented 11 irregularities such
as incomplete medical records, improper storage of medications and
propaganda of unorthodox treatments.
The unorthodox treatments, promoted on the Hospital Santa Monica Web
site, included treating cancer with insulin and unproven, experimental
Similar irregularities were documented last year at the clinic. The 78-
year-old widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. died there in
January 2006, though the hospital said at the time that her treatment
hadn't begun. It was closed a month later.
Bustamante said the new clinic had obtained a "notice of operation,"
which is the first step toward obtaining a permit.
It presented itself to Mexican health authorities as a provider of
regular clinic services and was never authorized to provide
alternative medicine, he said. Donsbach's name never appeared in
"They aren't doing what they told me they would do," Bustamante said.
Several patients or patient family members treated at the clinic in
recent weeks have said Donsbach was regularly there and presented
himself as the person in charge.
The Web site for Hospital Santa Monica last week said all therapies at
the clinic are "selected and are coordinated by Dr. Donsbach."
Donsbach, who has a 1996 felony conviction for tax evasion and
smuggling illegal medicines across the border, has no medical degree
and isn't licensed to practice medicine in Mexico or the United
Carlos Negrete, Donsbach's attorney, said his client is a "nutritional
consultant" and doesn't treat patients. He acknowledged that Mexican
officials have "temporarily interrupted" clinic operations and said
the clinic is challenging the closure in the Mexican court system.
Yesterday, the Hospital Santa Monica Web site wasn't operational.
Negrete said the Web site is "undergoing routine maintenance and
The clinic closure follows a story in The San Diego Union-Tribune on
Sunday about the clinic's latest incarnation and its continued
marketing as Donsbach's Hospital Santa Monica.
The clinic is one of numerous alternative health care facilities that
have opened in the Tijuana area over the past few decades. Many are
controlled by U.S. citizens who register the facilities through
Mexican operatives to avoid detection by local health authorities.
The alternative clinics lure mostly U.S. patients with promises of
potential cures. Many medical experts dismiss the treatments offered
by such clinics as dubious at best and potentially dangerous at worst.
"Cross-border clinics have been problematical for years, and they seem
to keep rising from the dead," said Dr. Robert Baratz, acting
president of the Massachusetts-based National Council Against Health
Fraud. "Every time you think they've been stopped from doing these
shenanigans, they reincarnate with a new name and new front people,
but usually the same people behind them."
Bustamante said health officials failed in previous visits to the
clinic to detect that it was operating because patients apparently
were being kept at nearby hotels. No patients were at the clinic
Tuesday, but health authorities said they found documentation on nine.
Bustamante said Baja California is trying to build its reputation as
an option for U.S. citizens to obtain affordable, quality health care
with the opening of modern, private facilities.
Clinics such as the one closed Tuesday have no place there, he said.
"We don't want them because it affects our other doctors and clinics
and we lose credibility," Bustamante said.