U-T SPECIAL REPORT
Baja clinic shut down for unorthodox care reopens
Embattled founder's role open to question
By Penni Crabtree and Anna Cearley
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
September 9, 2007
An alternative health clinic that was shut down last year by Baja
state health officials after it was linked to the death of Coretta
Scott King has quietly reopened and may be operating illegally.
Kurt Donsbach of Bonita
The clinic, Hospital Santa Monica in Rosarito Beach, appears to be
offering the kind of unorthodox care - treating cancer with insulin or
using unproven, experimental vaccines - that landed it in trouble
after the 78-year-old widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. died
there in January 2006.
The Mexican hospital, whose marketing is conducted by an affiliated
Chula Vista firm, is in the same building where Hospital Santa Monica
operated before the shutdown. Unmarked on the outside, the facility is
identified as Centro de Atención Integral on a Baja California health
department certificate posted inside.
But according to patients there, it is being marketed on the Internet
as Hospital Santa Monica and the clinic's founder, Bonita businessman
Kurt Donsbach, represents himself as the director and person in
Donsbach, who does not have a medical degree, is well known on both
sides of the border for offering alternative treatments considered
dubious by many medical experts. He has a criminal record, including a
1996 felony conviction for tax evasion and smuggling illegal medicines
across the border.
JOHN GIBBINS / Union-Tribune
A Baja state health official said Hospital Santa Monica is authorized
for "general medicine and for consultations and diagnostics." Nothing
outside the building indicates its ties to Bonita businessman Kurt
Donsbach, known for offering alternative treatments considered dubious
by many medical experts.
Carlos Negrete, an attorney who represents Donsbach, said his client
is a "nutritional consultant" and does not operate the Mexican
hospital or practice medicine.
The Web site for Hospital Santa Monica said last week that "all the
therapies employed at Hospital Santa Monica have been selected and are
coordinated by Dr. Donsbach."
Juan Carlos Mariscal, director of sanitary regulations for the Baja
California state health department, said the clinic in its latest
incarnation isn't authorized to practice alternative medicine.
Mariscal said Baja health authorities have closed about eight clinics
in the Tijuana area, which long has been a mecca for alternative
"It's authorized to be a hospital for general medicine and for
consultations and diagnostics," Mariscal said. "That would include
problems like headaches or a fever. But they can't treat a heart
attack or a more serious illness."
When told that Baja health authorities said the clinic is not licensed
to offer alternative health services and can offer only limited
traditional health services, Negrete responded, "We do not believe
this allegation to be accurate."
Many of the patients at the Mexican clinic are being treated for
serious ailments, including advanced cancer, according to patients and
patients' family members. Coretta Scott King was seeking treatment for
advanced ovarian cancer at the time of her death, although the
hospital said the treatment had not begun.
JOHN GIBBINS / Union-Tribune
The Hospital Santa Monica in Rosarito Beach is in business again in
the same building where the alternative health clinic operated before
it was shut down last year by Baja state health officials.
The original clinic was operating improperly when it was closed down
in February 2006, health officials said. At that time, Hospital Santa
Monica avoided detection by state authorities by registering under a
different name and listing a person other than Donsbach as the
director, health officials said.
Irregularities found at the time included: unknown substances marketed
under Donsbach's name, incomplete medical records and the practice of
unconventional treatments. The facility also was offering unauthorized
services such as surgical procedures, health officials said.
This time around, the clinic's owner is listed as Roberto Alcantara
Jurado, according to a Baja health department certificate, dated Feb.
1, 2007, posted near the clinic receptionist's office.
The receptionist said the owner could not speak with a reporter
because he was busy. The receptionist would not say whether Donsbach
was involved in the clinic, and she declined to say when the clinic
Several patients and patients' family members at the clinic said
Donsbach represented himself as the one running the clinic and
consulted with them on the treatments they were to receive.
One treatment, advertised on the clinic's Web site, involves
"neuropeptide" vaccines for multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, lupus
and other disorders. The 12-month vaccine course, combined with a
recommended course of "bionutrients," costs up to $6,650, according to
the Web site.
The Hospital Santa Monica Web site also says the vaccine is based on
20 years of research conducted by what it lists as the Oxford
Immunological Research Center.
"Why suffer from chronic, degenerative Autoimmune Disease when it can
be normalized, never to return!" Donsbach wrote in a brochure about
the vaccine program that is posted on Hospital Santa Monica's Web
site. "I stake my reputation on this protocol, having never seen
anything that works anywhere near as well or as rapidly as this does."
Negrete did not respond to questions about the vaccine or a request
for a contact for the Oxford Immunological Research Center.
"It is uncertain who or what you are referring to," Negrete said in an
Daniel Price, a spokesman for the British Society for Immunology,
called the health claims made by Hospital Santa Monica for its vaccine
and bionutrients therapy "palpable nonsense ... heading over the
border into La La Land."
Price said the society has not heard of an Oxford Immunological
Research Center and, if it is claiming to be based in Britain, it is
"not a credible institution, if it exists at all."
Price said information on the vaccine provided on the clinic's Web
site "bespeaks something of the Google-generation of cutting-and-
pasting of scientific or pseudo-scientific statements from different
sources" to create a document that looks scientific.
Mona Hale, whose father, Doyle Cleveland, was treated at the clinic in
late July and early August for advanced prostate cancer, said she was
appalled by the health services provided - many patients appeared to
receive the same treatments even though their diseases were different
- and by sanitary conditions there.
Hale said her 77-year-old father contacted the clinic in July and had
his telephone call returned by Donsbach. Donsbach told her father that
he was "90 percent sure" that her father could be cured or greatly
helped at the clinic. Her father was instructed to bring $23,000 in
cash or a cashier's check.
Hale said she accompanied her father from Michigan to San Diego, where
they were transported along with other patients across the border to
The facility was dirty, with exposed pipes and missing ceiling tiles,
said Hale, a nurse practitioner and director of geriatrics and women's
health for the Van Buren/Cass County District Health Department in
Michigan. At one point, a dog with bloody sores roamed into one of the
treatment rooms, she said.
Hale said she met with Donsbach in his office at the clinic and
expressed skepticism about conditions there and Donsbach's claims of
success at curing cancer.
Donsbach's response was akin to a carnival faith healer, she said.
"He told my father, 'If your daughter doesn't believe it, it isn't
going to work, and if you don't believe it, it isn't going to work.
I've seen people who came here with the right intention but their
faith was not strong enough and I couldn't help them,' " Hale said,
recalling Donsbach's remarks. "It was all Believe-In-Donsbach. It was
a real mind manipulation."
When the Hospital Santa Monica staff proposed surgery for her father
to insert a catheter into the subclavian vein, in order to infuse
"substances," Hale said she balked because of the unsanitary
conditions at the clinic.
In response to her questions about the clinic's rate of hospital-
acquired infections, she said, Donsbach assured her that the clinic
had never had a case. According to U.S. statistics, such infections
occur at a rate of 2 to 14 per 1,000 hospital admissions, and are
believed to lead directly to 63,000 deaths per year in the United
"He said, 'We don't have any, we never have,' " said Hale, who met the
statement with derision. "I said, 'Well, hallelujah, someone should
write you up in the Journal of the American Medical Association,
because I've never heard of a medical facility where there were no
After two days, Hale said, a Hospital Santa Monica physician demanded
that she leave or they would stop treating her father. Hale said she
begged her father to leave but that he was desperate and only repeated
that Donsbach said he could cure him.
Hale left, and her father continued his treatment at Hospital Santa
Monica. Hale said her father left the clinic Aug. 4 and returned to
his Michigan home with bad chest congestion and a foot infection.
He has since been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, acute renal
failure and pneumonia, said Hale, who attributes her father's failing
condition to his stay at the Mexican clinic.
"They are preying on the powerless," Hale said. "Why put these
patients through the hell of false hope when they may well have an
opportunity to be at home with loved ones or pursuing therapeutic
The facility has faced similar criticism in the past.
In August, Donsbach and Hospital Santa Monica settled a fraud lawsuit
brought by George Ott, a kidney cancer patient from Connecticut who
alleged he was duped into seeking treatment at the clinic in August
2005 through false representations that Donsbach was a licensed doctor
and that Ott's cancer would be cured or diminished.
Ott, who paid $12,500 with a cashier's check for what was billed as
"Donsbach's 12-Day Intensive Cancer Treatment Program," acquired a
near-lethal staph infection from a catheter inserted into his chest
for intravenous treatments, according to the lawsuit.
A few days after the catheter was inserted, Ott developed a high fever
and had difficulty breathing. On Aug. 17, 2005, Donsbach came into
Ott's room and said he expected Ott to feel better in the morning,
according to the lawsuit.
Three days later, Ott was rushed across the border to Scripps Memorial
Hospital-Chula Vista, where he was diagnosed with a staph infection
from the catheter, according to the lawsuit. Hospital Santa Monica
failed to diagnose the staph infection or treat it with antibiotics,
according to the lawsuit.
As a result of the infection, Ott developed pneumonia, sepsis and
congestive heart failure. In January 2006, he underwent open-heart
surgery to repair an aortic valve damaged by the infection, according
to the lawsuit.
Ott's attorney, David Wilzig, said the case was settled to his
client's satisfaction. Wilzig could not discuss the lawsuit because of
a confidentiality agreement.
Negrete said the allegations in the lawsuit were "vigorously denied"
"There were no factual findings on the merits and the case did not go
to trial, even though I wished it had," Negrete said.
Donsbach's financial interest in the Mexican clinic and other
businesses that trade on his name - including the Chula Vista-based
Dr. Donsbach's Let's Talk Health line of nutritional supplements -
appears complex and at times murky, according to court records and
depositions from Donsbach-related lawsuits.
'Visit the sick'
In a July 2006 deposition, Donsbach said he sold the Mexico clinic in
2002 to an employee, the clinic's medical director, Dr. Humberto
Seimandi, and retired. But Donsbach said he has continued in the
ensuing years to go to the clinic to "visit the sick" and pray with
Donsbach said he is not compensated for his visits to the clinic.
However, according to a deposition in February by Christine Mansfield,
Donsbach's office manager for 13 years, he receives an undisclosed
percentage of the revenue generated from U.S. patients who visit the
Mexico clinic. The medical fees are collected by Hospital Santa Monica
Inc., the Chula Vista-based company that conducts marketing for the
Mexico clinic, she said in her deposition.
Mansfield said Donsbach sold her the U.S. side of the business in
October 2003 for $10. She said there is no written contract for the
purchase of the business or a contract for Donsbach's business
consulting services, according to the deposition.
Last year, Donsbach sold his Let's Talk Health business, which
includes an Internet radio show that features Donsbach, to Jim
Cartmill. Cartmill pays Donsbach an undisclosed "royalty," Donsbach
said in his deposition.
Negrete did not respond to questions about Donsbach's role or
financial stake in the clinic or the company that conducts its
Some patients and patients' family members being treated at Hospital
Santa Monica said they assumed the clinic is in good standing with
Mexican health authorities.
Hugh McGavick of Oregon said he came with his wife so she could
receive treatment for a cancerous tumor in her neck area. McGavick
said the three-week treatment, which cost about $20,000, involved
"starving the cancer of things it feeds on like sugars, and flooding
it with oxygen and heat."
If the approach doesn't work, he said, they will consider trying
McGavick said he and his wife were aware the clinic had been closed
down last year. But he said they figured it was operating properly "or
else the Mexican government wouldn't allow it."
Mariscal, director of sanitary regulations for the Baja California
state health department, said he wasn't aware of any connection
between the clinic and Donsbach. He also said he hadn't received any
complaints from patients at the clinic and wasn't aware of allegations
that the clinic used alternative treatments.
"If they are offering alternative medicine, then we would have to
review this," Mariscal said.
He said people can send complaints about clinics to:
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